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Release date: March 5, 2001
Contact: Deb Hammacher, Assistant Director, 404-727-0644, or

Theater Emory Presents S.E. Premiere Of Opera/Theater Hybrid, "Telaio: Desdemona"

Opera singer and composer Susan Botti has been described as "one of the fresher, more imaginative voices on the New York new-music scene" (New York Times), and her recent commission from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra premiered at Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center in January of 2000, but Atlantans will have the chance to hear her in the intimacy of Emory’s 120-seat Mary Gray Munroe Theater on March 23-24 for the Southeastern premiere of her one-woman show, "Telaio: Desdemona." For tickets or more information, call 404-727-5050.

Botti is well known for her collaborations with composer/conductor Tan Dun, who has created several major works that highlight her vocal and theatrical talents. She premiered his "Red Forecast" for soprano and orchestra with the BBC Scottish Symphony and premiered it in the United States at Carnegie Hall with the American Composers Orchestra. Dun wrote the role of Water for her in his internationally-acclaimed opera, "Marco Polo," which premiered at the Münchener Biennale and was later produced at the New York City Opera in 1997.

The New York Festival of Song has commissioned a work from Botti for its New Millennium Songbook, and a commission from the New York Philharmonic with her and Christopher Lamb as soloists will be conducted by Kurt Masur in the 2001-02 season.

Described as an "operatic soliloquy," "Telaio: Desdemona" is a melding of opera and theater in which Botti weaves what is said about Desdemona in Shakespeare’s "Othello" with the verse of a young Italian Renaissance poet named Gaspara Stampa.

Botti is both narrator and Desdemona through four sets of recitatives and arias. The recitatives are created from Shakespeare’s text about Desdemona and the arias are created from Stampa’s poetry and an Italian folk song. The title is both literal and figurative: "telaio" is the Italian term for a frame for weaving, and Botti weaves together textual threads that create a portrait of Desdemona, but the traditional recitative and aria forms also provide a musical framing structure. And of course, Desdemona is "framed" by Iago.

The recitatives in English are the words of Desdemona’s father; her husband, Othello; her friend Casio; and her enemy, Iago. "For the recitatives, the music is driven by the words, and the instrumentation focuses on the piano, harp and percussion," Botti explains in the liner notes to the CD "listen, it’s snowing" which contains "Telaio: Desdemona." "In contrast, the arias are more emotional and lyrical and are accompanied by the string ensemble. Together the recitatives of the narrator and the arias of Desdemona present a portrait."

One reviewer describes the music of the recitatives as "contemporary, angular, percussive and coloristic" with the arias a stark contrast. "The arias (in Italian) are tonal and lyric, exposing Desdemona’s emotional life more fully than in any earlier version of the story, with very rich work in the strings" (Arts Alive! and Well).

Botti will be accompanied by seven musicians: the string quartet Cuarteto America (violinist Marion Peraza, violinist Carlos Rubio, violist Adriana Linares and cellist Carlos Izcaray) and pianist Daniel Kirk-Foster, percussionist Michael Lipsey and harpist Victoria Drake. The musical director is Kimberly Grigsby, currently the conductor for the Broadway production "The Full Monty."

"Telaio: Desdemona" was commissioned by the American Artists Series (AAS) of Detroit and was created with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts. The work was premiered by AAS and Botti in
April 1995, and was then staged as a full-scale theater production in Santa Fe, N.M., in March 1999. Botti made
some changes after the Detroit premiere—done as a concert—to make the piece more theatrical.

In an interview prior to the Santa Fe performance, Botti explained that theater was her first love, and her interest in Desdemona dated to her acting-school days. She wanted to do a character study for the commission, an interest inspired while studying with Emory theater studies professor Tim McDonough several years ago in Boston, so turned to Shakespeare as the best character writer whose work is in the public domain. Botti fortuitously stumbled upon Stampa’s work at the same time, and incorporated her work to flesh out Desdemona.

Theater Emory’s acting artistic director Leslie Taylor collaborated with Botti in the development of "Telaio: Desdemona" as the set and costume designer. "It’s nice to have the opportunity to bring some of my outside work to Theater Emory," Taylor says. In fact, she has won a number of awards for her design work outside of Emory, including the prestigious Maharam Award as associate designer for the Broadway production of "K-2."

Performances of "Telaio: Desdemona" will be at 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 23-24 in the Mary Gray Munroe Theater, Dobbs University Center, 605 Asbury Circle, Emory. Tickets are $20 general admission and $10 for Emory students. For more information, call the Arts at Emory box office at 404-727-5050 or send e-mail to To see a map of campus, go to

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