So, you’re walking down the street on a beautiful day, you see a bag of groceries on the sidewalk, and then it barks at you. Would you be surprised? If you knew yourself to have visual agnosia, perhaps less so. Although those affected report a range of results, this rare psychological disorder essentially affects the communication between the eyes and the brain, so that objects and faces are not accurately interpreted, or even completely unrecognized. Long Beach Opera explores this unusual phenomenon through the eyes of “Dr. P.”, the singer/professor protagonist in Oliver Sacks‘ groundbreaking 1985 book about this rare condition. Sacks himself copes with “facial blindness”, a neurological condition that makes it difficult to recognize one face from another, so his lifelong study of such disorders is clearly a personal mission. (His YouTube channel is truly fascinating…)
Michael Nyman is most commonly known for his unforgettable score for Jane Campion’s 1993 film, The Piano. In this “neurological opera” (known simply as “The Hat” for short), he uses his minimalist style to delve into the world of someone who quite literally sees the world differently. Robin Buck (pictured above), finds that he relates to his character beyond the norm, as well: “I could go on and on about the similarities between myself and the ‘Man Who’ — love of German Lieder, opera, concert work…thankfully I don’t share the visual agnosia, but music has always been a central part of my life, just as it was for ‘Dr. P.'” Sacks himself sees the organic connection to the stage: “The real hero in The Hat is surely music — the power of music to organize and integrate, to knit or re-knit a shattered world into sense… opera turns out to be the perfect medium: the theme seems pre-ordained for the form.”
The show makes the most of just three characters, under the direction of David Schweizer, who has led several acclaimed projects for LBO already. He says, “the piece has everything: deeply felt emotions, humor, and a haunting portrait of the fine line between mental illness and genius.” Operagoers seem to agree, as anticipation has already been high. Additional shows were recently added, but get your tickets asap.