Judy Chicago, "The Dinner Party" (1979), collection of the Brooklyn Museum, gift of the Elizabeth A Sackler Foundation (© Judy Chicago / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo © Donald Woodman/ARS NY)

Judy Chicago, “The Dinner Party” (1979), collection of the Brooklyn Museum, gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation (© Judy Chicago / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo © Donald Woodman/ARS NY)

There’s something distinctly operatic about “The Dinner Party” (1979), the landmark work of feminist art by Judy Chicago that is on permanent display at the Brooklyn Museum. It has an enormous cast, dramatic lighting, rich fabrics, and tells its share of comedies and tragedies in the stories of the great women it honors. It’s surprising that it’s taken this long for opera artists to seek inspiration from the seminal installation, but this week the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program(GMTWP) at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, and the NYU Tisch Department of Design for Stage & Film and American Opera Projects (AOP) are presenting a two-day program of 11 mini-operas written, composed, developed, and designed by students and based on Chicago’s landmark installation.

Artemisia Gentileschi, "Judith Beheading Holofernes" (1614–20), Uffizi Gallery (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Artemisia Gentileschi, “Judith Beheading Holofernes” (1614–20), Uffizi Gallery (image via Wikimedia Commons)

The first, on Wednesday evening, will feature six pieces at NYU Tisch’s GMTWP Black Box Theatre, including one (with music by Jacinth Greywoode and libretto by Deepali Gupta) inspired by the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson, and another (with music by Bryan Blaskie and libretto by Christine Claudel Filimonova) imagining the first job interview of late-medieval author Christine de Pizan, following her husband’s death. On Sunday afternoon, the program shifts to the Brooklyn Museum for five more mini-operas, including one (with music by Boram Han and libretto by Cal Silberstein) about the mythic medieval figure of Pope Joan shot through with allusions to contemporary US politics, and another (with music by Mehmet Salih Yildirim and libretto by Lily Dwoskin) about that most popular of Renaissance painting subjects, Judith and Holofernes.

“‘The Dinner Party’ contains a multitude of stories, and was created in part to encourage viewers to investigate those stories,” Professor Randall Eng, a co-founder of the GMTWP Opera Lab program that is producing the program, said in a statement. “In these operas, the students have done exactly that, as they transform the visual and historic into music and theater. Some of the operas celebrate moments in the lives of specific women, while others confront the work as a whole, and it’s been a joy to see the range of operatic responses — from comic farce to meditative reflection to heightened tragedy to impassioned critique.”

When: Wednesday, May 23 at 7:30pm; Sunday, May 27 at 2pm
Where: GMTWP Black Box Theatre, NYU Tisch (715 Broadway, 2nd Floor, Greenwich Village, Manhattan); Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn)

More info at American Opera Projects.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...