The libretto of Nyman‘s opera The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat is based on the book by the renowned British neurologist Oliver Sacks, remarkably popular among his readers for his books on his unusual cases. The story, which seems rather uncommon for an operatic genre, was successfully turned into a libretto by Christopher Rawlence.
Dr. P. is a singer and music teacher who realises that he has lost his ability to determine the things that he sees. He is able to ascertain who or what it is only when he hears a person’s voice or an object’s sound, in spite of the fact that nothing is really wrong with his vision, since the problem he is dealing with is more of a neurological nature. At some point in the opera he reaches for his wife’s head, thinking that it is his hat. He manages to go on with his life, orienting himself on the music. His every action is associated with a musical theme, presenting a bridge between him and everyday life. His unusual adjustment is commented by his doctor as follows: »I cannot tell you what is wrong with you. But I can tell you what is good. « Both composer and librettist prove themselves again with the opera finale, perfectly written with a little help from Dr. Sacks. They manage to achieve its climax without over-dramatizing or extensive explanations.
The composition is written in a minimalist style. Its orchestral ensemble consists of two violins, two cellos and a harp. The repeating minimalist patterns are wonderfully interwoven with Schummann's lieder Ich grolle nicht - Dr. P's main aria.
Michael Nyman is a British composer, who is also a music critic and film composer.
Text: Katja Konvalinka ( Slovenian Chamber Music Theatre)