Opera Profile: Tobias Picker’s ‘Lili Elbe’

By John Vandevert
Photo Credit:  Edyta Dufaj/Opera Vision

The latest opera by one of contemporary opera’s well-beloved figures, Tobias Picker, in only two acts Picker weaves a dynamic story about the real-life figure, Lili Elbe, one of the first but possibly most famous transgender women in history. Having started life as a painter with the given name Einar Wegener, in 1930 following a name change and a transition, Lili Elbe was born, although a career full of modeling and marriage had filled the years prior.

The story of Elbe’s life has preoccupied much of contemporary popular culture, and the opera is but one in an ongoing series of works and legacy remembrances of the figure. Despite the painting career of Elbe having been relatively short, many of their works reflect a high competency in landscape, modernism, Art Nouveau, and still art. 

The opera, which features a libretto by Aryeh Lev Stollman, was premiered only last year, the brutalist Theater St. Gallen in Switzerland being the location. In the title role, American singer Lucia Lucas sang as Lili, supported by a number of other seminal singers like Sylvia D’Eramo, Brian Michael Moore, Sam Taskinen, and Msimelelo Mbali among others. Lucia first became internationally recognized when she performed in the 2021 Tusla Opera production of “Don Giovanni” in the title role, signaling a transformation in the development of opera productions in America.

Reviews of Picker’s opera were overall exceedingly positive, with many calling the opera highly relevant, with the score being rich and exciting, one calling the opera “worthy of remounting.” As a result, the opera won “Best World Premiere” at the 2023 Oper! Awards.



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