When the Santa Fe Opera premiered Oscar, a brand new opera composed by Theodore Morrison about the iconoclast's trial and incarceration, in its 2013 season no one knew what to expect exactly.
David Daniels, the acclaimed countertenor for whom the play was created as a vehicle for his unique voice, played Wilde, and he was just excited to take on the mantle of the man known for his wit and wisdom. "I'm a gay man, and this deals with the persecution of a gay man, so it's arguably the highlight of my career," he told Out.
The production received raves, but there was some confusion since the plot centers so heavily on the two years that Wilde spent in a Victorian prison for "gross indecency." As the Philadelphia Inquirer notes, some critics thought "Wilde came off as too saintly, the opera was too verbose, and it seemed derivative of Britten's Death in Venice, with an older gay man whose love object was played by a nonspeaking dancer," so for Opera Philadelphia's 40th anniversary, the company presents Oscar with a revision that includes a new opening that introduces Wilde at the height of his celebrity just before his downfall.
David Daniels returns in the role, making his Opera Philadelphia debut as Oscar Wilde, and dancer Reed Luplau (who starred in Five Dances opposite Ryan Steele) appears as Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas. Daniels has explained that the opera actually made him revisit a difficult memory of a time when he was the victim of a hate crime in his hometown of Spartanburg, S.C., in the '90s.
"In the opera, when the townspeople call Oscar a bugger and a sodomite, there's no question that memory bubbled up in me, because the words screamed in my face [in Spartanburg] were 10 times worse," Daniels told the Inquirer. The assailants "were found, and they were all in our U.S. military. I didn't want to go to court. I just wanted it to go away."
"Out at the Opera," a special LGBT event hosted by Opera Philadelphia and the William Way Community Center, will be held Feb. 13 at the Academy of Music. The event will include a talk "about homosexuality in Oscar Wilde's time compared to today," featuring ACLU of Pennsylvania executive director Reggie Shuford and Opera Philadelphia vice president Michael Bolton.
The production continues through Feb. 15. For tickets visit OperaPhila.org.