The Paradis Files, a new chamber opera, will receive its world premiere at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in April. The work tells the story of Maria-Theresia von Paradis, a blind pianist and composer who was much celebrated in her day but is largely forgotten now.
Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1759, von Paradis lost her sight between the ages of 2 and 5. She was a pupil of Antonio Salieri and a friend to Mozart. She toured Europe throughout 1783 and 1874, performing as a singer and pianist in concert halls in Vienna, Paris, London, Berlin, Prague and more. She composed many pieces, including operas, cantatas and solo pieces for piano, voice and keyboard.
She helped Valentin Haüy establish the first school for the blind, which opened in Paris in 1785. From 1797 she turned her attention to teaching and in 1808 she founded her own music school in Vienna. She continued to teach up until her death in 1824. Despite these extraordinary achievements, however, she is little remembered today.
The Paradis Files aims to redress this by reclaiming von Paradis’s place in the spotlight. Commissioned by The Stables for IF: Milton Keynes International Festival and produced by Graeae Theatre Company, the opera begins with von Paradis as the toast of the salons of 18th-century Vienna. Celebrated across Europe for her outstanding talent, she is known as the ‘Blind Enchantress’.
However, behind this remarkable success story, there are darker forces at play. Her own family sought to profit from her blindness by using it to secure a disability pension. Others subjected her to an extraordinary variety of daily and invasive treatments in order to ‘cure’ her blindness.
This new production is from an original idea from blind writer, historian and journalist Selina Mills. The music is by award-winning, Belize-born British composer, pianist and singer-songwriter Errollyn Wallen CBE to a libretto co-written by Colchester-based playwright and dramatist Nicola Werenowska and Mills. It is directed by Jenny Sealey, CEO and artistic director of Graeae Theatre. Performances will be conducted by Music Director Andrea Brown. In 2020, the company commissioned a short documentary about the making of the opera.
Following two preview performances at Curve Theatre, Leicester, on 8-9 April, the opera will receive its world premiere on 13 April at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London’s Southbank Centre. A second performance takes place on 14 April, before the production tours to venues across the UK throughout April and May. Tickets for the London shows cost £18-30 and are available from the Southbank Centre.
The Paradis Files will be performed by Deaf and disabled actors from Graeae Theatre Company. This unique London-based company champions the inclusion of Deaf and disabled people in the arts, placing Deaf and disabled actors centre stage.
All performances of the opera will integrate British Sign Language (BSL), captioning and audio description. BSL is integrated within the performance, rather than using an interpreter at the side of the stage.
After the world premiere, the production is set to tour to: The Stables, Milton Keynes, on 20-21 April, Mercury Theatre, Colchester, on 23 April, Hull Truck Theatre, Hull, on 26 April, Horsecross Arts Perth Theatre, Perth, on 28-29 April, Richard Burton Theatre, Royal Welsh College of Music, Cardiff, on 5-6 May and Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, on 11-12 May.
See each individual venue’s website for times and ticketing details. For more information about Graeae Theatre Company’s work, visit the company’s website.
New chamber opera The Paradis Files, based on the life of blind pianist and composer Maria-Theresia von Paradis, will premiere at London’s Southbank Centre in April 2022.