‘Touch’: New opera will shed light on Helen Keller’s adult life

Birmingham Opera HouseAlabama’s largest professional opera company, has announced a new opera about the life of deaf-blind author and activist Helen Keller.

“Touch,” slated to premiere in 2024, will focus on Keller’s adult life and the accomplishments she and her teacher and confidante, Anne Sullivan Macy, have made as humanitarians and activists.

The opera will be pick up where the classic play “The Miracle Worker” ends, exploring the complicated relationship between Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan Macy, John Macy (Anne Sullivan’s husband) and Peter Fagan, Keller’s interpreter and lover damn.

World-renowned humanitarian Helen Keller, originally from Tuscumbia, lost her hearing and sight as a child. A breakthrough with her teacher and mentor Anne Sullivan led Keller to a life of dogged advocacy for disability rights and women’s suffrage.

Opera Birmingham describes “Touch” as a body of work that will capture the tenderness and humanity of Keller’s adult life, including his romantic relationships.

To touch addresses the themes of disability and the ability of individuals to act independently and make their own choices. A world-renowned humanitarian, Helen Keller was a fierce advocate for women’s suffrage, civil rights and the rights of people with disabilities. His monumental achievements over 80 years have brought to light society’s darkest handicaps. She saw the need for a balanced world, heard the cry of the oppressed and spoke for them,” reads a production description in a press release.

“Miss Keller’s passion was also present in her personal life. ‘To touch’ tenderly captures the humanity of his life, characteristics often overlooked in such an iconic figure. She was quick-witted and playful, devoted and fiercely loving, and as interested in reading the romantic novels of Jane Austin as she was in the philosophy of Walt Whitman.

According to Birmingham Opera House press materials To touch” begins when Helen Keller is admitted to Radcliffe College in 1900 after Sullivan makes her point to a skeptical Dean through letters of recommendation from Mark Twain and Alexander Graham Bell.

As Keller becomes a famous writer, his relationship with Sullivan is tested when Keller marries “drunkard and womanizer John Macy”. As the wedding unfolds, Keller discovers her calling as an anti-war and women’s suffrage activist, and an emotionally drained Anne falls ill.

Sullivan hires a young interpreter named Peter Fagan to replace her.

In a detailed synopsis, Opera Birmingham describes an ill-fated romance between Keller and Fagan:

“A romantic relationship begins between Helen and Peter. The romance is doomed, as the Keller family and Anne plot to end it without Helen’s knowledge, leaving her feeling that Peter has abandoned her. The opera ends with Helen holding Anne’s hand as Anne dies. Distraught with grief, Helen utters the first and last word we hear from her lips, ‘Master.'”

For the production, Opera Birmingham commissioned composer and librettist Carla Lucero as well as co-librettist Marianna Mott Newirth.

“Touch” will also be suitable for the visually and hearing impaired. The 90-minute two-act chamber opera will be performed in American Sign Language and the text of the opera will be projected above the stage. According to press materials, the production will also include visually and hearing impaired performers in all facets of opera. Opera Birmingham will also provide accessibility for members of the public, including ASL interpreters at performances, Braille program notes, assisted listening devices and audio description services.

An opera workshop will take place in the fall of 2022 at the Seagle Festival in upstate New York. More information about the project is available at www.operabirmingham.org/touch and will expand as further details are announced.

About Madeline J. Carter

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