Be True to Yourself : The Upcoming NYC Premiere of "Uncovered"

Between November 16 and 19, City Lyric Opera (CLO) will present the New York City premiere of Uncovered, a chamber opera composed by Lori Laitman with a libretto by Leah Lax. Based on Lax’s memoir about her journey out of Hasidic Judaism to freedom as a gay woman, the opera explores issues of fundamentalism, abortion, homosexuality, and living an authentic life. Composer Lori Laitman and CLO co-founder and executive director, Megan Gillis tell us about this much-anticipated premiere that will take place at HERE Arts Center.

Lori, you asked Leah Lax to write the libretto for Uncovered after reading her memoir. What drew you to this story and how did the opera come into being?

Lori Laitman: When I first read the memoir, it struck me as excruciatingly honest, not packaged in any way; an original, dramatic story and an interesting look into a closed society. It’s got great social implications because it’s a learning experience for anybody and it could help so many people.  Leah chose to join the Hasidic community when she was very young, and it took her such a long time to find the courage to extricate herself and to live her true life.  I think that any time that people hide their true selves, they’re going to run into problems. At first, I thought this could be a great song cycle but then I decided a small opera would be better. I contacted Leah and asked her whether she would consider re-envisioning the memoir and writing the libretto. She had to whittle the book down to nine scenes. I don’t start composing before I have the words because I’m creating dramatic music to magnify and illustrate the meaning of the words. The music of Uncovered calls upon my own Jewish heritage in terms of musical modes I used. Also, my thought was that the beauty of the music can actually help digest the difficulty of the subject. So, City Lyric Opera, Utah State University, and New York Opera Society (NYOS) became the co-commissioners for this work, and Utah State premiered it at the end of March. Now we’re ready here with an amazing cast and great executive director/producer, Megan, and the creative team.

Lori Laitman 

Megan, why was it important for you to produce this opera? 

Megan Gillis: I think this story is incredibly timeless. It’s about discovering who you are through a series of choices and personal struggles. It’s about being able to deal with all aspects of finding yourself and your truth, learning how to stand on your own two feet and speak up for yourself. Uncovered highlights many elements of one person’s journey that are universal, whether that’s the choice to be a mother or not, or being open about your sexuality. There are many aspects to Leah’s story that are deeply personal, and I agree with Lori, none of it is sugar coated. Leah spent so many years of her life putting one foot in front of the other that to finally be in a place where she felt empowered to live her truth on her own terms was so important. As an opera director, producer, and executive director of a company founded and run by women, it is also especially poignant to present a story that speaks to a lot of women’s experiences, many that are thankfully being highlighted in the media and the news nowadays. We get to see our own reflections on stage which is unbelievably powerful. I’m extremely fortunate and blessed to be able to do the New York premiere. Telling Leah’s story here feels special, timely, and significant. For audiences, this is a charge, a challenge, an encouragement that, no matter the consequences, it’s always better to be true to yourself and to live truthfully. Your life and the lives of those you love will be better because of that.

Lori: I definitely agree. The big message is: be true to yourself because otherwise you and everybody around you will suffer. Leah suffered, but so did her husband. Neither of them had the marriage they should have had, and the children didn’t have the home they should have had. It takes courage to do things differently than the expected norm especially when you’re in a tight-knit community like the Hasidic community where you have to follow the script, and if you don’t fit into the script, you’re really in trouble. So, I hope that the opera gives people courage to be authentic and to realize that, while that may be difficult at first, you really have to follow your own star. We’re all individuals and we all have our gifts.

Megan Gillis

Where is Uncovered going next?

Lori: I’m in talks with several universities interested in presenting it, and possibly a few companies. The third premiere from the co-commissioners will be with the NYOS and we’re hoping that they will do the European  premiere.  Jennifer Cho, the NYOS executive director is looking into possibilities in both Austria and the Netherlands. I want to add that it’s been an incredible pleasure to work with Megan. She’s got a handle on everything and she’s always open to suggestions. I, Leah, and my director, Beth Greenberg, all feel very welcome and impressed by Megan and the company is extraordinary.

Megan: It’s been a true pleasure working and being involved with this opera. I’m just so proud of this experience and the highly collaborative environment with all of these amazing women!

Maria-Cristina Necula

Maria-Cristina Necula is a New York-based writer whose published work includes the books “The Don Carlos Enigma,” “Life in Opera: Truth, Tempo, and Soul” and articles in “Das Opernglas,” “Studies in European Cinema,” and “Opera News.” A classically-trained singer, she has presented on opera at Baruch College, the Graduate Center, the City College of New York, UCLA, and others. She holds a doctoral degree in Comparative Literature from The Graduate Center. Maria-Cristina also writes for the culture and society website “Woman Around Town.” To find out more and get in touch, please visit her website.