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Nashville Opera explores the mysteries of the human brain in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Fall Guide 2013: Mad Hatter



Last season, Nashville Opera ventured for the first time into the realm of avant-garde opera, scoring big with its production of David Lang's postmodern masterpiece The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. The success of that mounting has prompted the opera's artistic director John Hoomes to try again.

"One of our goals in opening the Noah Liff Opera Center was to have a venue to stage experimental opera," says Hoomes. "In fact, I made up a list of operas that I wanted to stage there, and near the very top was a fabulous opera by Michael Nyman."

That opera is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, which Nashville Opera presents at 8 p.m. Nov. 8-9 and 2 p.m. Nov. 10 at Noah Liff. The work takes its comic title from famed British-American neurologist Oliver Sacks' 1985 best-selling book of the same name, which is a collection of case studies that explore the terra incognita of the human brain. The book immediately caught the attention of Nyman, who turned Sacks' story into an opera.

The work deals with the unusual case of a certain Dr. P, an accomplished classical singer and music professor who suffers from a rare abnormality called visual agnosia. He can see the details of the world around him — there is nothing physically wrong with his eyes — but his brain cannot process this information to create coherent visual images.

Put another way, Dr. P not only can't see the proverbial forest for the trees, he can't even distinguish the bark from the lichen that grows on it. So, as Oliver Sacks notes, Dr. P wanders the world in a state of comic Mr. Magoo-like confusion, mistaking fire hydrants for adorable children and his wife for a coatrack.

The brain, of course, is a mysterious organ, so it's perhaps not a surprise that Dr. P's other faculties are completely normal. Indeed, his ear for music is nothing less than spectacular. Sacks discovers that Dr. P has a special affinity for the music of the 19th century German Romantic composer Robert Schumann.

"Schumann and his music figure prominently in this opera," says Hoomes.

Nyman, the opera's composer, is known in America primarily for the New-Agey soundtrack he wrote for Jane Campion's 1993 film The Piano. His opera is more post-modern though no less lyrically appealing. "It is a beautiful opera," says Hoomes, "and it is of course filled with humanity."

Don't Miss:

Sept. 21: Nashville Symphony Opening Gala feat. Renée Fleming
The orchestra's season has already started, but it couldn't throw a party without a star. So the NSO will hold its gala next week, when Fleming, aka "The People's Diva," arrives in town to perform one of her specialties – Strauss' Four Last Songs. She'll also sing a selection of opera arias and Broadway tunes. 8 p.m. at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center

Sept. 26: Pianist Sean Chen
A medalist at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Chen specializes in big repertoire, from Beethoven's Hammerklavier to the Rach Three. He's presenting Belmont University's Woods Piano Concert Series. 7:30 p.m. at McAfee Concert Hall

Oct. 4-5: Nashville Symphony Plays Bruch, Paulus and Tower
The NSO launches its new "Coffee & Classics Series" on Oct. 4 with a morning performance of contemporary American composer Stephen Paulus' Grand Organ Concerto and Aaron Copland's Billy the Kid Suite. It repeats those works in the evening along with Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 2 (with concertmaster Jun Iwasaki) and Joan Tower's Chamber Dance. 10:30 a.m. Coffee and Classics and 8 p.m. Oct. 4-5 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center

Oct. 10 and 12: Nashville Opera presents The Pearl Fishers
Bizet's Carmen is so wildly popular that it has completely overshadowed the composer's other excellent work — The Pearl Fishers. Not surprisingly, this opera, about the rivalry of two friends for the same woman, is every bit as steamy as Bizet's gypsy masterpiece. 7 p.m. Oct. 10 and 8 p.m. Oct. 12 at TPAC's Andrew Jackson Hall

Oct. 22: Alias Chamber Ensemble
Nashville's adventurous chamber group presents the music of three contemporary American women composers — Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw's Cantico delle creature, Jennifer Higdon's An Exaltation of Larks and Margaret Brouwer's Demeter Prelude. 8 p.m. at Turner Recital Hall, 2400 Blakemore Ave.

Oct. 25-26: Nashville Symphony Performs Beethoven, Poulenc and Vaughan Williams
Beethoven's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage sets the mood for the evening's main event, a performance of Vaughan Williams' magnificent Symphony No. 1 "A Sea Symphony" featuring the Nashville Symphony Chorus. The piano duo of Christina and Michelle Naughton also join forces to play Poulenc's delightful Concerto for Two Pianos. 8 p.m. at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center

Oct. 26: Blair String Quartet
The Blair School of Music's premier ensemble in residence presents a program of meat-and-potatoes classics. The concert will feature Haydn's String Quartet Op. 77, No. 1, Prokofiev's String Quartet No. 2 and Mendelssohn's String Quartet No. 6. 8 p.m. at Ingram Hall, 2400 Blakemore Ave.

Nov. 7-9: Nashville Symphony plays Schumann and Stravinsky
The most compelling reason to attend this concert is chance to hear the fabulous Venezuelan-born pianist Gabriella Montero perform Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor. She'll be joined on the program by the popular guest conductor Gilbert Varga, who'll lead the orchestra in Stravinsky's Firebird. 7 p.m. Nov. 7 and 8 p.m. Nov. 8-9 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center

Nov. 21-23: Nashville Symphony performs Beethoven and Tower
The Nashville Symphony won its first three Grammy Awards for its recording of Joan Tower's Made in America. As part of a new Tower recording, the orchestra will perform the composer's Stroke and Violin Concerto (with violinist Cho-Liang Lin). Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" rounds out the program. 7 p.m. Nov. 21 and 8 p.m. Nov. 22-23 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center


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