Thursday, August 17, 2023


Lisa Schlesinger and Layale Chaker

Obermann Interdisciplinary Research Grant recipients Layale Chaker and Lisa Schlesinger (Theatre Arts) are deep in the creative process, weaving together the intricate threads of music, storytelling, and stagecraft to bring to life their ambitious opera, Ruinous Gods: Suites for Sleeping Children. The project, commissioned by Spoleto Festival USA, centers on the experiences of displaced children grappling with resignation syndrome—a rare trauma response to displacement—and seeks to carve out a space for imagination and empowerment within the realm of opera.

Shlesinger and Chaker, an independent composer, embarked on their artistic journey with an early start, commencing their Obermann residency on July 1. Their immersion was driven by the need to balance the demands of travel residencies and workshops that have recently taken them to different corners of the globe. Chaker's participation in the Aix en Provence Festival as a new opera composer mentor and Lisa Schlesinger's involvement in the LaMama Umbria Directors' Program with Iman Aoun set the stage for their collaborative efforts.

The project is nurtured by a dynamic production team, reflecting a range of artistic expertise. Maya Zbib and Omar abi Azar of the Zoukak Theatre Company guide the direction and dramaturgy, ensuring the narrative's depth and emotional resonance. Joelle Aoun's scenography, Sarah Leterrier's costumes, and James Ingalls's lighting design harmonize to visually manifest the world of Ruinous Gods.

The heart of the opera beats in the collaboration between Chaker and Schlesinger. While Chaker immerses herself in the orchestration and composition of the score, Schlesinger refines the libretto, drawing from the notes generated through intensive composer-dramaturgy meetings. The duo's synergy has seen the expansion of certain characters' roles and the addition of an aria, injecting new dimensions into the evolving narrative. The two have also been meticulously considering the opera's many transitions, the connective tissue of any theatrical piece. Their dedication to fluidity and coherence in the production's pacing and rhythm promises an immersive experience for the audience.

Despite the challenges that often accompany artistic endeavors—in this case, unexpected cast changes early in July—the duo remains undeterred. With diligent effort, they are addressing and resolving these issues. The opera's evolution continues with a keen focus on the new draft and the orchestration of the score, imbuing it with emotional depth and resonance. An upcoming in-person meeting promises to further catalyze the creative process, providing a platform for the team to synchronize their visions and align their efforts. The timeline and location of this meeting are in the works, underscoring the commitment to meticulous planning and execution.

The ensemble cast and creative team, though poised on the edge of revelation, remain under wraps as confirmations are awaited. The Ruinous Gods team understands the significance of pacing and timing, making a conscious choice to withhold public announcements until all the pieces are in place.

Through Ruinous Gods: Suites for Sleeping Children, Chaker and Schlesinger navigate the delicate balance between trauma and imagination. The opera’s narrative, based on the experiences of displaced children afflicted by resignation syndrome, promises to captivate and resonate deeply with audiences. The collaboration between the co-directors, the nurturing hands of the production team, and the unwavering dedication to crafting an immersive experience all point to a powerful and thought-provoking production set to premiere in 2024 at Spoleto Festival USA.

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