The Peabody Chamber Opera

DORA title

Music by Melissa Shiflett

Libretto by Nancy Fales Garrett

based on Fragment of an Analysis of Hysteria by Sigmund Freud

Karin Hendrickson, music director

conducting a chamber instrumental ensemble

Roger Brunyate, stage director and designer

Douglas Nelson, lighting designer

Thursday–Saturday, April 23–25, 2009, at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 26, 2009, at 3:00 p.m.
Meet the composer and librettist at the Saturday and Sunday performances.
Theatre Project, 45 West Preston Street, Baltimore
Admission $25 / Seniors $15 / Students with ID $10
Tickets available from Theatre Project online, or call 410/752–8558
Synopsis       Photographs by Cory Weaver       Peabody Opera home

Sigmund Freud in 1907  
Sigmund Freud in 1907
shortly after publishing Dora
In 1905, Sigmund Freud published Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, concerning his treatment in the last months of 1900 of an 18-year-old woman whom he called Dora. The treatment lasted only 11 weeks, from mid-October until New Year’s Eve; the analysis was broken off by Dora herself, who felt that Freud was imposing his own ideas upon her situation. Although acknowledging that his work was incomplete, Freud felt that Dora’s case was too perfect a vindication of his theories not to be published. It became one of his most famous cases, developing his ideas of the sexual basis of hysteria and providing an immediate follow-up to his book The Interpretation of Dreams, published shortly before his work with Dora. More recent criticism, however, has come to side with Dora, feeling that the doctor was too intent on using his patient for his own purposes to be able to see the very real problems that tormented her; he became, in effect, just another of the many adults who used and betrayed her.

  Freud's analytical sofa
  Freud’s analytical sofa
Dora was brought to Freud by her father, suffering from episodes of aphonia, inability to breathe, persistent nervous coughing, and other bodily ailments that Freud correctly diagnosed as classic symptoms of hysteria. His began a course of analysis to uncover the psychosexual trauma that he believed would be the root cause. Part of his technique was to get his patients to face sexual issues openly, using objective language rather than euphemism. He applied this practice to his interpretation of a dream in which Dora had dreamed of being woken by her father to say their house was on fire; her mother had wanted to go back to save her jewel case, but her father would not permit her. Freud dwelt at length on the symbolism of the jewel case, and told Dora that the first part of the dream had to do with memories of her father waking her as a child to prevent her from wetting the bed. He was even more intrigued by a second dream that involved Dora wandering in a strange city asking the way to the station, only to arrive too late at her father's graveside.

  Dora (Ida Bauer)
  Dora (Ida Bauer)
  at age 8, with brother Otto
But Dora (whose real name we now know to be Ida Bauer) had more immediate problems than childhood bed-wetting. Her family was largely dysfunctional; her father had caught syphilis from a pre-marital encounter and infected Dora’s mother, turning her into an obsessive cleanliness freak who wanted nothing further to do with men. Several years back, he had begun an affair with the young wife of a neighbor in the Alpine town of Merano (then part of Austria) where they lived. This couple, known in the book only as the Ks, have since been identified as Peppina and Hans Zellenka, for whom Dora used to baby-sit. She may have turned to Frau K for information, for example about sex, that she could not obtain from her mother. Herr K, meanwhile, has a roving eye of his own, with a penchant for young girls. Dora tells Freud of at least two occasions when he propositioned her, once when she was 14, and again when both families were staying at a lakeside hotel for the summer. On this second occasion, she slapped his face and told him no, and later asked her father to break off relations with the Ks. Herr Bauer refuses to believe Dora’s allegations, which leads the girl to believe — not without justification — that her father has done a deal with Herr K in exchange for continued access to his wife. Freud believes Dora, but advances an entirely different explanation: that she is torn between a homoerotic love for Frau K and jealousy of her for taking away her beloved father, and that her “no” to Herr K (another father figure) really meant “yes”!

Hallstaettersee, Austria
In the Austrian Lakes
where most of the opera takes place
The story is obviously prime theatrical material, with its layers of truth and invention, lust and the loss of innocence, and its undeniable historical importance. Dramatist Nancy Fales Garrett has fashioned a brilliant libretto based on Freud’s original account but freely shifting viewpoints, so that we see matters now through Freud’s eyes, now through Dora’s, and now with such objectivity as an entranced audience can muster. She has added a further layer to the theme of adults and children, by including roles for Freud’s daughter Anna, and the two K children, Heinrich and Zinnie. But if the multi-layered nature of the story is well suited to theater, it is even more so a subject for opera. Composer Melissa Shiflett’s music ranges from sensitive lyricism to beer-hall waltzes that perfectly capture the decadence of the period. Although grotesque and even comic at times, this story is ultimately a tragedy — in the words of the librettist, “a sexual danse macabre.” The opera, which is scored for a small chamber ensemble, is conducted by Karin Hendrickson and designed and directed by Roger Brunyate

Drawing by Gustav Klimt
Sleeping Girl
after a drawing by Gustav Klimt
Dora received its first full production in 2002 at La MaMa ETC in association with The American Chamber Opera Company in New York City. Further details of the opera and this production can be found at Excerpts from the opera were also presented by the New York City Opera on their first annual Showcasing American Composers series.

Nancy Fales Garrett  
Nancy Fales Garrett (librettist) began her theatrical career as a writer and director at La MaMa ETC, where her early plays were produced and where Dora premiered in 2002. Her plays include Playing in Local Bands (Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, Yale Rep, the Magic Theater), Some Sweet Day (Long Wharf Theater) and The Northern Kingdom (Henry Street Settlement Theatre). Screenplays include The Stranger and The Northern Kingdom, both filmed and both honored at various regional film festivals. Fales Garrett was the founding director of Shakespeare in the Valley, a Shakespeare workshop for teenagers in upstate New York. She taught there for 20 years and directed all of Shakespeare’s comedies, including Cymbeline and Romeo and Juliet which not everyone considers comedic. She has won playwriting fellowships from NYSCA and the National Endowment for the Arts. Fales Garrett teaches Playwriting at St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn, New York.

  Melissa Shiflett
Melissa Shiflett (composer) began her career as resident composer to the experimental Dream Theatre at the Body Politic Theatre in Chicago. Her operas have been performed by the Pennsylvania Opera Theater, Minnesota Opera New Music Theatre Ensemble, New Dramatists in New York City, and Piccolo Productions in Chicago. Most recently, her one-act opera, My Undying Love: An Amusement, was given a workshop production by The American Chamber Opera Company and presented by The Construction Company in New York City in January of 2008. Throughout her career, Ms. Shiflett has specialized in song-writing. Her theater songs have been performed both nationally and internationally in the plays Dracula by Mac Wellman and Tales of the Lost Formicans by Constance Congdon. Her Songs on Sara Teasdale Poems and Water Dreams were premiered at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in 2002 by soprano Shauna Holiman and can be heard on Albany Records. Several of her songs on texts by Edna St. Vincent Millay have been featured in the show “Vincent” an evening of Edna St. Vincent Millay, by soprano Dorrie Casey, in Maine and in North Carolina at the Manbites Dog Theater. Ms Shiflett is a music instructor at the 92nd St. Y and is a member of ASCAP.

Singers in the Production

* Performing on Thursday 23 and Saturday 25 only
** Performing on Friday 24 and Sunday 26 only
Sigmund Freud  J Austin Bitner (guest)
William McCullough
Anna Freud  Maggie Finnegan
Jessica Lennick
Dora Bauer  Jessica Abel
Danya Katok
Frau Bauer  Jennifer Hamilton
Lauren Maxwell
Herr Bauer  Paul Corujo
Andrew Sauvageau
Frau K  Jocelyn Thomas
Tiffany Wharton
Herr K  Curtis Bannister
Peter Drackley
Zinnie K  Zoe Band
Abigail Seaman
Heinrich K  Emily Sanchez
Samuel Shipps (guest)