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Critics Praise Tobias Picker and Aryeh Lev Stollman's Lili Elbe

Nov. 29, 2023

Reviews are in for Lili Elbe, a new opera by Tobias Picker and Aryeh Lev Stollman, which premiered onOctober 22 at Theater St. Gallen in Switzerland under the baton of Modestas Pitrenas with stage direction by Krystian Lada. Featuring heldenbaritone Lucia Lucas in the title role and Sylvia D'Eramo as Lili's wife Gerda Wegener, Lili Elbe was commissioned by Theater St. Gallen to celebrate the opening of St. Gallen's newly renovated opera house. 

Lili Elbe is the first full-scale opera about a transgender person and composed expressly for a trans opera singer in the title role. One of the first persons to undergo gender affirmation surgery in 1930, Lili before transition was known as the acclaimed Danish landscape painter Einar Wegener and was married to Gerda Wegener, herself an important artist, considered the Danish pioneer of Art Dèco and a sought-after portraitist.

Tobias Picker discusses his inspirations for Lili Elbe in conversation with Theater St. Gallen dramaturge Caroline Damaschke here. Additionally, the opera was featured on the TV network, 3satLili Elbe is performed in repertory at Theater St. Gallen through December 3, 2023.

Additionally, Lili Elbe will stream on OperaVision beginning December 8, 2023. Founded in 2014, OperaVision is a free opera streaming platform supported by the European Union’s Creative Europe program, offering an extensive library of classic titles and world premiere works.  Lili Elbe will be available to stream on demand until June 8, 2024.

 "An emotionally charged masterpiece." 
– Voralberger Zeitung (Andreas Marte), October 23, 2023

"Lili Elbe is an opera that is relevant today and worthy of remounting...even though the titular lead must be sung by an artist who identifies as trans or non-binary, this is the story of a great love that overcomes all obstacles, a universal theme that runs through all the operatic repertoire.

Picker’s opera flows like a delicate work of music theater in two acts that builds towards an emotionally gripping apotheosis of death... Lucas not only makes Lili’s fate her own but allows her own fate to shine through. As directed by Krystian Lada, the narrative unfolds in a straightforward manner as an Art Nouveau-expressionist arc, amidst a bright, symbolist stage." 
– Die Welt (Manuel Brug), November 10, 2023

"Lili Elbe was the first person to undergo multiple gender affirmation operations in Berlin and Dresden in 1930 — at a time when such a thing seemed unthinkable around the world... The opera owes its intensity not only to this fact but also to the extraordinary story of its protagonist, which the librettist Aryeh Lev Stollman has condensed into an opulent, pictorial arc... The battle of the sexes rages here in the body and in the feelings of one and the same person. With Lili Elbe, opera has definitely arrived in the 21st century."

Tobias Picker has created a gripping and haunting score....that perfectly suits the moods of each of the scenes so cleverly conceived by librettist Aryeh Lev Stollman. He uses a variety of musical means and instrumental colors, weaves jazzy rhythms, foxtrots, and waltzes into the social scenes, and puts the (beautifully playing) Metanola String Quartet on stage, led by Raul Campos-Calzada, who plays with dreamlike purity." 
– Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Anna Kardos), October 28, 2023 

"Picker's vocal lines always remain committed to melody
ariosi lead to large scenes with wonderful upswings and dramatic, self-aware arias. The psychedelic-tinged party at the Danish Countess is a bit of irresistible atmospheric musical theater. Modestas Pitrenas and the St.Gallen Symphony Orchestra demonstrate their stylistic versatility with a gripping 
interpretation of the score...This is great music!"
– Oper Aktuell (Erstellt von Kaspar Sannemann), October 22, 2023

"An evening full of nightmares and hopes, with a fearless, always fascinating Lucia Lucas at the center, an iridescent experience, moving in its truthfulness."  
– Süddeutsche Zeitung (Egbert Tholl), November 8, 2023

"This premiere made it clear that Picker's seventh opera not only captivates with attractive music but also adds a major new work to the repertoire addressing an important current topic. The audience obviously understood this and gave the impressive production a standing and sustained ovation."
– Rocco Sound

"...a work that resonates deeply with our times." 
– Kronen Zeitung (Anna Mika), October 24, 2023