Wuornos recounts the actual life story of Aileen Wuornos, the notorious serial killer and sex worker who is now on death row for the killings of seven men in Florida. It is a tragic love story of operatic proportions. Based on the surreal life of a real person, Aileen Wuornos is at once villain and heroine. Wuornos is a portrait of love, betrayal, and a woman who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the love of her life another woman.
Incredibly, this opera becomes darkly humorous as it glares unflinchingly at the media, which has become our moral watermark in a tabloid society. The opera examines the painful journey of a woman subjected to incessant abuse at virtually every step of her life. It also explores the lure of the media, and to what extent the people seduced by its power will go to manipulate a story and exploit the subjects at the center. Provocative and controversial, the deepest, darkest roots of feminism are exposed as the rage of one woman speaks for centuries of pain.
Hailed as an important new opera, this full-scale original piece, by composer and lyricist Carla Lucero, is produced by Lauren Hewitt, with Executive Producer Nancy Corporon, under the auspices of the Jon Sims Center for the Arts.
Unique in concept, Wuornos will make history for more than its subject matter. In the world of opera, female composers rarely receive the public attention they deserve. New York’s Metropolitan Opera last performed an opera by a woman in 1903! Wuornos will add Carla Lucero’s name to the small list of women who will see a full-scale production of their work.
Rarely have there been opportunities to express alternative stories within the framework of what most consider an elitist art form, says Carla Lucero. Wuornos’s impact will be both far-reaching and poignant, giving long-silenced voices the opportunity to be heard. I'm fortunate to be able to utilize my art to shed light on issues that deserve attention, however unsettling. Wuornos will appeal to a diverse cross-section of society, from seasoned opera lovers to those who are merely curious or intrigued by Aileen Wuornos’ compelling life story.
Aileen Wuornos’s story of lesbian love, betrayal, and murder is ripe for opera. It was written in the fashion of the dark and perverse comedy of Alan Berg’s operas Wozzeck and Lulu and their anti-heroes. Wuornos tells the story of how an ordinary, working-class woman’s history of abuse at the hands of men propels her into extraordinary circumstances. The opera delves into a world of physical and sexual violence toward women and children, revealing the cyclical transmission of abuse from victim to victim and the murderous and self-destructive sequelae of unhealed lives. The Wuornos story also avails itself to a critique on the media and religion.
Sung in English, Wuornos is accessible and capable of provoking a series of potent and often contradictory emotional responses among audiences. According to Wuornos Music Director Mary Chun, Carla Lucero has managed to capture an almost old-fashioned lyric opera sense which she marries to her rich, modern harmonic language.
The music for Wuornos is a complex study of style, texture, and intensity, which evokes the sense of torment of Aileen’s fractured life as victim and villain. The use of flashbacks weave together the story of her childhood and adult life. Principle characters are represented by primary compositional themes, recognizable by melodic cells and/or harmonic shifts. Only Aileen’s character is represented by a particular instrument: the viola, chosen for its raw texture and its range and timbre, which matches that of the human voice.
The music ranges from carnivalesque absurdity in large choral scenes reflecting the rapacity of the media and the motives of the profiteers; to cataclysmic dissonance accompanying horrific scenes of childhood abuse and the resulting murders; to Aileen’s haunted and doleful solo passages of loneliness and visceral privation and desire. The harmonic architecture of Wuornos occupies the chromatic margins of tonality.
In the harmonic schemes involving specific characterizations, the melodic/harmonic relationship stays constant, but adapts to whichever tonal center is taking precedence, as there are layers of thematic music ever present. Depending upon what is happening in the libretto, a main theme might recede into the background, allowing an important subtheme to emerge momentarily to color the scene. In some cases the melodic cell with its harmonic block is kept in its original form and inserted at an opportune time against an existing, noncomplimentary harmony. In this way, attention is drawn to a character’s motive, to remind the audience of a past event, or to foreshadow.
What provoked me to write Wuornos? Aileen’s story of abuse touched me deeply. Children and women are frequently the victims of abuse, often without recourse. This story made me wonder why such a tragedy as Aileen’s hasn’t happened many times before. Men are expected to lash out, to be violent, to defend themselves, to retaliate. Is it so shocking that a woman, horribly abused as a child and later as an adult, killed in self-defense and then had knee-jerk reactions to threats of violence to her person time and again? Men returning from war call it shell-shock. Yet women have been in the trenches for centuries. Aileen Wuornos’s actions are not to be applauded, though there is a message loud and clear: Abuse is cyclical.
As my first opera, wearing the hat of the librettist and also that of the composer has made this piece easier to create than collaborating. While writing the libretto I was shaping the piece musically and often jotted down thematic ideas as they came. By the time the libretto was near completion I had a good idea as to where I was heading with the music.
To describe the style, I'd like to think of Wuornos as 21st Century music. It is melodic with shifting tonalities. The term chromatic could apply, although the music doesn’t always predictably return to its tonal center after sometimes long departures. It is quite thematic, employing melodic cells and bits of distinctive harmonies to help tie things together. I shied away from using orchestration as a tool for continuity, as it becomes too predictable and sometimes not appropriate in a given dramatic moment. The most important musical element to me in this piece is the melodic line. I tried to follow natural speech patterns and inflections as much as possible.
Although Wuornos is my labor of love, I hope the opera helps to introduce my music to the new millennium and pave the way for other women composers to bring significant work to national and worldwide theaters, concert halls, and opera houses.
Jon Sims Center for the Arts
The Jon Sims Center is thrilled to be the producing organization for the Wuornos opera,” says Charles Wilmoth, Director of the Center. Having supported Wuornos from its initial development when Carla Lucero was a Sims Center AIRspace Artist-in-Residence, we have committed our resources to this bold, artistically adventuresome opera because there is such scant institutional support for women in opera.
The Jon Sims Center for the Arts awarded its highly-competitive Creative Work Fund grant to Wuornos. The 2000 Creative Work Fund grants received 139 initial letters of inquiry, of which Wuornos was one of 15 proposals chosen for funding. The Creative Work Fund, the Bay Area’s most coveted new-works granting program, is equally supported by the Columbia Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the Miriam and Peter Haas Fund, and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. The Creative Work Fund was started in 1994 to provide a new means of support for Bay Area artists and artmaking. Through its emphasizes on artistic collaborations, the fund is intended to further the types of art and artistic inquiry for which the San Francisco Bay Area is nationally recognized.
The Jon Sims Center for the Arts is a multidisciplinary performing arts center, founded within and reaching out from the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender communities, supporting artistic expressions that community. The Center ensures access to the creative process, providing resources that support and promote new and existing arts programs.
The Center provides fiscal sponsorship for several artists and arts organizations and makes available low-cost rehearsal and studio rentals used for hundreds of artists each year. Through paid and free public events, the Jon Sims Center resident programs reaches well over a million people each year. These events bolster pride and self-esteem in the gay communities while simultaneously fostering understanding and tolerance in the general public.
For more information about the Wuornos opera project, log on to http://www.wuornos.org or call Wuornos Producer Lauren Hewitt at (510) 336-1310, or e-mail email@example.com
For more information about the Jon Sims Center for the Arts, call Charles Wilmoth at (415) 554-0402, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or log on to http://www.jonsimsctr.org.