Librettist Wende Persons Shares The Story Of The Opera Patience & Sarah (Part 2)

“Girl meets girl. Girl loses girl. Girl gets girl.”


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Soprano Nadia Petrella (Patience) and mezzo-soprano Elsa Quéron (Sarah)

Maria Baranova

In part one, Wende Persons talked about the new opera version of Patience and Sarah. Here she discusses the importance of the work to lesbian culture.

Of the story Patience & Sarah, Persons says, “I loved that book because it was the first happy lesbian love story. It was the first one where everybody doesn’t die in the end! There was one book with a title something like This Is Not For You, where the straight woman falls in love with a lesbian, and the lesbian says, ‘Don’t do it! This is not for you!’”

Patience & Sarah is a great love story. I summarize the plot like this: Girl meets girl. Girl loses girl. Girl gets girl. How great is that?”

For the 2016 revival, a shortened version with a smaller ensemble will be performed at New York Pride. Persons says, “Paula Kimper has re-orchestrated it and made it smaller and more portable, so it can be done more often. It’s being staged. We like to say it’s a chamber opera – it’s an opera that is best seen up close and experienced in a smaller space. The Players Club will be that space – it’s just a couple hundred seats.”

Of course, the librettist and composer are hoping that the piece will be picked up for a longer run. “I’ve always thought this could be a great off-Broadway piece, though it would need to be double cast because there’s so much singing. But one of the things I love is that Paula writes so beautifully for the voice. Anyone who has had any role in this opera has said, ‘It fits so well for my voice.’ It’s beautifully accessible in that way.”

As to the future of the opera, Persons says, “I have faith that these pioneering women will have a long, long life on the stage. It’s like meeting old friends when they come back. And it’s so exciting to see reviewers loving them, and audiences loving them too.”

Maybe the most appreciative of all will be long-lived lesbians. “I’m a long-lived lesbian; I’m 63. The Long-Lived Lesbian column is perfect for Patience & Sarah. I’m finding that younger women really don’t know what Patience & Sarah is. It’s been more for our gang, reading what was published in the '60s, '70s, and '80s. I’m not sure whether it has any pull in the current generation of lesbian culture, this beautiful novel.”

Has the success of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home on Broadway helped with this revival? Persons thinks Fun Home is “spectacular.” “I find it unbelievable how much more mainstream gay subjects have become. Who would have thought that in our lifetimes we’d come so far?”

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