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A Contemporary View on Tobias Picker's Emmeline

Apr. 01, 2019

A Contemporary View on Tobias Picker's <em>Emmeline</em>

The Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater presents Tobias Picker's Emmeline, directed by Thaddeus Strassberger and conducted by George Manahan on April 25-28. Based on the novel by Judith Rossner with a libretto by J.D. McClatchy, Emmeline is an American retelling of the Oedipus myth from the mother’s viewpoint. While the story originally takes place in the mid-19th century, in this production, Emmeline's timeless tale has been brought into the contemporary realm by director Thaddeus Strassberger, who notes:

"In developing this production, it became apparent that the characters in the story are not remote, not of a different time, but of our own. The time span of twenty years between act one and act two is important.  Tobias Picker and I were in dialogue about this as the ideas were formulating and he was very encouraging that he believed new aspects of the story could indeed be revealed by shifting the time period.

We have worked together to update some superficial aspects of the libretto that are easy - for example when discussing wages and money, obviously there has been inflation over the past century and half and that is reflected. 

However, there are more profound changes when discussing the sexuality of a fourteen-year-old girl in relationship to her thirty-something manager at work. The concept of consent and culpability in such situations has shifted over time.  The role that religion and the concept of sin play in our lives as evolved. The number and kinds of family planning options have grown and new ways of thinking about how fate and free will affect our lives have developed. We have updated then language of the libretto and the physicality of the performances in order to reveal these more contemporary themes that are already woven into the tapestry of words and music of this deeply affecting opera. 

A classical tragedy of our times, Emmeline’s destiny seems to have been written before she even had a voice. She longs for love in a loveless world; the brief moments of joy that she feels when she is nearing what she thinks is love are overshadowed by the pain of having lost it entirely."

Heidi Waleson of The Wall Street Journal called Emmeline "a measure by which I assess the theatrical impact of other new operas. With its poetic, streamlined libretto and Mr. Picker’s vivid score, this two-hour opera is continuously gripping, without a wasted note."


For more information on Tobias Picker, visit:

Tobias Picker
Emmeline (1995)
an opera in two acts
based on the novel by Judith Rossner
libretto (Eng) by J.D. McClatchy
chamber version arranged by Samuel Bill (2009)
4S, 2Mz, 2T, 2Bar, 2Bl women’s chorus
1(pic).1(ca).1(bcl).1- min)