Wendy Steiner's "Biennale: A Comic Opera" Playing at the Barnes Foundation

Richard L. Fisher Professor Emerita of English Wendy Steiner’s new comic opera, Biennale: A Comic Opera, written with composer Paul Richards, is now at the Barnes Foundation. The multimedia production, co-sponsored by the Penn Humanities Forum, premiered on October 4, with additional performances slated for Friday, October 11, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, October 12, at 2 p.m.

The opera centers around Kate, the beauty secrets editor of a women’s magazine. At the Venice Biennale, she enters an interactive art exhibition where she is dazzled by the multimedia installation and the attention of the artist who created it.

“She can’t tell whether what passes between them is real or merely part of the artistic experience,” Steiner says.

Outside the installation, in a conversation over coffee, the artist reveals his addiction to the video game Assassins’ Creed II. The game’s villain, Caterina Sforza, is based on a 15th-century Italian noblewoman who, like Kate, was a beauty secrets expert.

The idea for the opera came to Steiner four years ago while she was attending a lecture on Renaissance “secrets books” at the Penn Humanities Forum, a program she founded in 1999.

Steiner explains that secrets books, long ignored by historians of science, were collections of recipes for cosmetics, cures, charms, and poisons that contributed to the rise of modern chemistry and medicine.

“The secrets in question sounded to me like the table of contents of modern women’s magazines,” Steiner says. “Biennale sets high art against domestic art and the alchemy of love.”

Read the full story here.

Arts & Sciences News

Michael C. Horowitz Awarded Department of Defense Grant to Lead Team on Study of Autonomous Systems and AI

Michael C. Horowitz, Professor of Political Science, will oversee the study of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence.

View Article >
Earthquakes at the Nanoscale

In collaboration with Robert Carpick and David Goldsby, Tian, who graduated from Penn in 2017 with a doctorate in physics, recently published a paper in Physical Review Letters which attempts to tackle these devastating natural phenomena by investigating the laws of friction at the smallest possible scale, the nanoscale.

View Article >
Doris Wagner Named Robert I. Williams Term Professor

A leader in the fields of plant biology, chromatin modification, and epigenetics, Wagner’s research focuses on understanding at the molecular level the complex changes that occur when an organism switches developmental programs.

View Article >
Wrongful Convictions Reported for 6 Percent of Crimes

A study from Penn criminologists results in the first general estimate for the prison population as a whole.

View Article >
Race Has a Place in Human Genetics Research, Philosopher Argues

Penn philosopher Quayshawn Spencer says there is a racial classification that’s medically useful to reliably sample human genetic diversity.

View Article >
Exploring the Sounds of the Middle Ages

Assistant Professor of Music Mary Channen Caldwell's freshman seminar course, “Hearing (in) the Middle Ages,” explores a range of sounds heard throughout the medieval period, whether produced by people, instruments, bells, or animals.

View Article >