Joanna Settle Marks Debut as Opera Director

Performer Marietta Simpson in the world premier of Sky on Swings by Lembit Beecher and Hannah Moscovitch, directed by Joanna Settle.

September 20, 2018 marked Associate Arts Professor of Theater Joanna Settle's debut as an opera director. Sky on Swings premiered in a sold out run in Opera Philadelphia's O18 festival, marking the culmination of her commission with Opera Philadelphia which began in 2016. Composer Lembit Beecher, Canadian Playwright/Librettist Hannah Moscovitch and Settle were together commissioned to create a new opera wresting with the terms of Alzheimer's Disease.

Her research for the project included multiple workshops with the company, travel to AIX Opera Festival, talks with biologist Mazin Magzoub on the NYUAD campus, and collaborating with NYU New York Head of MFA Set Design Andrew Lieberman.

...a shattering musical and theatrical evocation of what it feels like to have Alzheimer's disease...

Joanna Settle’s skillful direction played with the fluid boundaries between the real and the imagined; Andrew Lieberman’s blank-walled set, which represented both the care facility and the empty spaces of the mind, was decorated only with a neon light fixture, whose long squiggly shape and changing colors suggested the tangles of the brain. Tilly Grimes’s neutral-colored leisurewear, and Pat Collins’s clinical lighting intensified both the real and the surreal, and soprano Sharleen Joynt excelled as Winnie, Martha’s unhappy daughter, now forever shut out of her mother’s realm.

Wall Street Journal
Marietta Simpson and Frederika Von Stade in Sky on Swings.
Marietta Simpson with the chorus in Sky on Swings.

Ms. Settle has worked miracles with her gifted collaborators, creating an engrossing stage piece out of a horrible “accident” we can’t look away from. Her unerring skill at blocking is coupled with a total commitment to character explorations that are unnerving in their honesty and variation. By the end of the piece we know these people, and suffer with them. In a brilliant touch, the director deploys actual old supernumeraries in an unending single file parade upstage, visually underscoring that there is no end to this scourge that knows no demographic.