Grammy Award-winning composer and Tulsa Opera Artistic Director Tobias Picker’s sixth opera, Awakenings, made its world premiere at Opera Theatre of St. Louis earlier this month.
Adapted into a libretto by Lambda Literary Award-winning writer and neuroradiologist Aryeh Lev Stollman, the opera tells the true story of Picker and Stollman’s friend Dr. Oliver Sacks, who brought new hope to survivors of the sleeping-sickness pandemic of the 1920s.
The production was directed by James Robinson, critically-acclaimed stage director and Artistic Director at Opera Theatre of St. Louis. In October 2020, Robinson directed Tulsa Opera’s baseball-themed Rigoletto.
Jarrett Logan Porter, who played the role of Oliver Sacks, previously performed with Tulsa Opera for Carmen (2019) and Tulsa Pride (2022). The opera’s conductor, Roberto Kalb, previously conducted Tulsa Opera’s productions of The Barber of Seville (2018) and Carmen (2019).
A co-production with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Awakenings will make its Oklahoma premiere at Tulsa Opera in the coming years.
“A life-affirming work” ―BBC World News
“There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the launch of this new opera. It’s seen as a life-affirming work that has the potential to inspire pandemic-weary audiences, and its creators hope it will deliver of Dr. Oliver Sacks that is perhaps more truthful than what’s come before.”
“Shows Oliver Sacks as his friends knew him — a gay man”
―St. Louis Public Radio
“Months before Sacks’ death in 2015 at 82, he disclosed something he hadn’t previously felt comfortable talking about publicly: He was gay.
“Now two of Sacks’ longtime friends have written an opera based on ‘Awakenings.’ For the first time, an adaptation of Sacks’ writing will portray him, accurately, as a gay man.”
“An Oliver Sacks Book Becomes an Opera, With Help From Friends”
―The New York Times
“Sacks, who died in 2015 at 82, liked to share these plants with others. ‘It feels like yesterday, his 80th birthday here,’ said Picker, a longtime friend. ‘It was such a beautiful evening, and we had the entire conservatory.’
“The botanical garden is among the small memorials to Sacks scattered throughout Awakenings, Picker and Stollman’s opera adaptation of Sacks’s 1973 book.”
“[A] Poignant Premiere”
―The Wall Street Journal
“Aryeh Lev Stollman’s poetic libretto follows the basic narrative arc of the well-known 1990 film adaptation, framing it with a choral prologue and epilogue recounting the “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tale and zeroing in on three patients. Mr. Picker’s elegiac, autumnal score, with its eloquent writing for solo string players, treads delicately in these stories of unrealized possibility.”
“Awakenings Rouses Empathy”
“It is after the transitory jubilation in the opera’s middle that the composer finds his most profound voice, creating a soundscape of helplessness and stern, even cruel introspection for the “well” characters, and most especially for the deflated Sacks. The writing here just aches, pulsing with pathos.”
“Awakenings Touches the Soul”
“Whether relevant to the tragedies of today or those of the last century, it is a story of the human condition, of re-awakenings and the consequences of them, of life’s mixed blessings, and, mostly, of love.”