Theatre company Graeae is set to produce its first ever chamber opera. The Paradis Files tells the remarkable story of Maria Theresia von Paradis, an Austrian musician and composer who lost her sight at an early age.
Maria Theresia von Paradis was born in Austria in 1759, the daughter of Joseph Anton von Paradis, imperial secretary of commerce and court councilor to Empress Maria Theresa. She was a celebrated composer, pianist and singer who gave concerts both in Austria and across Europe. A contemporary of Mozart and Salieri, she was known as the Blind Enchantress. She lost her eyesight between the ages of 2 and 5.
She performed as a singer and pianist in various Viennese salons and concerts, being commissioned to perform various works. She also toured much of Europe, visiting Frankfurt, Paris and London. While in the last she played Handel fugues to King George III.
Von Paradis also turned her hand to writing, composing solo music for piano, vocal pieces, five operas and three cantatas. In 1808, she founded a music school in Vienna, where she taught singing, piano and theory to young girls. She continued to teach up until her death in 1824.
However, underlying her story of success is the tale of a woman who was used as a pawn by her family to secure a pension – a young musician whose disability was used as a source of ‘inspiration’ and was subjected to an extraordinary and daily variety of treatments to ‘cure’ her blindness.
She was treated from late 1776 until the middle of 1777 by the famous doctor Franz Anton Mesmer. He improved her condition temporarily until she was removed from his care, amid concerns of the potential loss of her disability pension.
Commissioned by The Stables as part of its 50th anniversary programme for IF: Milton Keynes International Festival, The Paradis Files is the first chamber opera to be produced by Graeae, a unique theatre company that places deaf and disabled artists at the centre of the creative process.
The opera is originated and performed by deaf and disabled artists. It is directed by Jenny Sealey, Graeae’s artistic director, with music by award-winning composer and performer Errollyn Wallen and a libretto by Nicola Werenowska and Selina Mills.
A short documentary about the making of this new opera is available on YouTube:
The Paradis Files is a new opera about blind composer Maria Theresia von Paradis from theatre company Graeae.