Frontiers

Loathly Lady Live

English scholar Wendy Steiner places enduring characters in new conversations at the cusp between opera and musical theater.
April 2009

On April 1 the Penn Humanities Forum celebrated the close of its 10th anniversary year with the world premiere of an original, sung-through comic opera inspired by Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” Described by librettist and Richard L. Fisher Professor of English Wendy Steiner as a “romp through 600 years of ‘the woman question’ as well as 600 years of music,” The Loathly Lady tells the story of a morally deficient Arthurian knight who must embark on a yearlong quest to discover what women want most, or face death as punishment for his crime against a maiden.

"The Loathly Lady is a romp through 600 years of ‘the woman question’ as well as 600 years of music." - Wendy Steiner

During his journey the knight encounters an anachronistic cast of fictional and nonfictional characters—including Sigmund Freud, Merlin, Emma Woodhouse, and Virginia Woolf—all of whom offer their thoughts on the knight’s guiding question.

“In its comic forays into male-female misunderstanding,” writes Steiner and composer Paul Richards, “The Loathly Lady attempts a whimsical dialogue between the past and present. Can the two speak to each other? The answer is: perhaps, and the process of finding out, we hope, will be a feast for the ears, the eyes, and the heart.” The partially staged April 1 performance in Irvine Auditorium, enhanced by image projections of original artwork by John Kindness, garnered a standing ovation.

Visit Wendy Steiner’s website to view pilot animation of what Steiner, Richards and Kindness hope will one day be developed into a feature-length animated film.