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Lili Elbe

Music by: Tobias Picker

Libretto by: Aryeh Lev Stollman


Duration: 100 mins


Originally premiered at Theater St. Gallen, Switzerland, 2023

 

When the actress Anna Larsen of the Royal Danish Theater, who had just premiered the role of Orpheus in a new play, could not come for the last sitting of her portrait, the centerpiece of a new exhibition, she makes an unusual suggestion; that the artist, Gerda Wegener, ask Lili Elbe, (at that time known as Gerda’s husband, the artist Einar Wegener), to dress up and pose as Anna. At this sitting Lili is brought to a profound self-discovery, never before acknowledged. Like Orpheus compelled to look back at Eurydice, Lili can never again help turning away from her true self.

Lili, despite the support of Gerda, their friends Ernest and Hélène, and Lili’s brother Marius, encounters hostility even from her own sister Dagmar. Finally, through the efforts of Hélène she is introduced to Professor Warnekos who agrees to operate on her at the Municipal Women’s Clinic in Dresden and help her fully live her life as a woman.

After her first surgery, through a dramatic encounter with the King of Denmark, she receives a royal decree confirming her gender identity and dissolving her marriage to Gerda.
As a pioneer of gender affirmation surgery, Lili endures the terrible pains and dangers of the more limited and experimental medical science of her time, ultimately dying from complications after a second surgery.

During this journey both Lili and Gerda find temporary love in different quarters, Lili with the perfumer Claude LeJeune, and Gerda with the Italian Major Fernando Porta who will squander her money and leave her in poverty.
 Lili and Gerda, together at the end, declare their great and everlasting love for each other, which has never altered.


FORCES


Singers:

Lili Elbe; historically known as Einar Wegener, pre-transition - Baritone

Gerda Wegener; wife of Lili - Soprano

Claude LeJeune; fiancé of Lili - Tenor

Danish Countess/Dagmar; sister of Lili/Matron - Soprano

Anna Larssen Bjørner; famous actress and friend of Gerda and Lili/Orpheus/Mother Wegener/Young Woman - Mezzo-soprano

Professor Warnekros; Director of Municipal Women’s Clinic in Dresden - Bass

Art Critic/Major Fernando Porta; Gerda's second husband/Christian X; King of Denmark - Bass

Marius Wegener; Lili’s brother - Baritone

Hélène Allatini; wife of Eric Allatini, friends of Lili and Gerda/Eurydice - Mezzo-soprano

Eric Allatini; husband of Hélène Allatini - Baritone 


SATB Chorus


Orchestra:

2 Flutes

2 Oboes

3 Clarinets in Bb and A

2 Bassoons

4 Horns

2 Trumpets in Bb

2 Tenor Trombones

1 Bass Trombone

Tuba

Timpani

Percussion 

Harp

Electronic Keyboard

Strings



Project Statement

Lili Elbe is the first full scale opera about a transgender person and composed for a trans opera singer in the title role. Lili Elbe (1882-1931) was one of the first persons to undergo gender affirmation surgery. Lili before transition was known as the acclaimed Danish landscape painter Einar Wegener. Lili was happily married to Gerda Wegener (1886-1940), herself an important artist considered the Danish pioneer of Art Dèco and a sought-after portraitist.


 

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