About this Recording
8.660398 - NYMAN, M.: Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (The) [Chamber Opera] (Treviño, Sjöwall, MacPherson, Nashville Opera Orchestra, D. Williamson)

Michael Nyman (b. 1944)
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (1986)


Libretto by Oliver Sacks, Christopher Rawlence and Michael Morris after The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (1985) by Oliver Sacks

Dr P – Matthew Treviño, Bass
Mrs P – Rebecca Sjöwall, Soprano
Neurologist – Ryan MacPherson, Tenor

Nashville Opera Orchestra
John Hoomes, Stage Director
Dean Williamson, Musical Director

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to programme a varied and diverse selection of operas, and Michael Nyman’s chamber opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat had long been on my bucket list of works for consideration. I have always been an admirer of Nyman’s talent, and I felt that with this opera he had created a taut masterpiece of drama and music. However, I was unprepared for the audience response to the show. The moment the performance ended, there was a brief silence, and then the entire room erupted into such a cacophony one would think we were attending a sporting event. Who could have imagined that a chamber opera about neurology could evoke such an overwhelming response? But that is the magic of this piece. With this original cast recording, we hope to recapture some of that magic.

Nyman’s music, with its use of clever rhythmic repetition and varied orchestral colour, pushes the story forward and builds dramatic tension, even if the scene in question is nothing more than a routine visit to a doctor’s office. But, like the best operas, the music tells us there is indeed something unseen hiding just below the surface. As the opera progresses, the drama and the music meld further, until music becomes the dominant, driving, healing force in the characters’ lives. With this chamber opera, Nyman captures the wonder and mystery of the workings of the human brain, and then allows us to feel the humanity behind the science.

John Hoomes


Scene I. Prologue

The neurologist delivers an address concerning his approach to neurology and introduces the case of Dr P.

Scene II. The First Examination

Dr and Mrs P arrive at the neurologist’s clinic, having been referred by an ophthalmologist. A series of routine neurological tests is carried out, revealing little. As he prepares to depart, P makes several alarming mistakes and the neurologist resolves to see him again.

Scene III. The House Call

Baffled by his first meeting with P, the neurologist determines to observe his patient in the environment of his own home. The investigation continues as the neurologist engages P in a variety of visual exercises designed to reveal the nature of P’s condition: geometric solids, cartoons, television, photographs, rose, glove, chess game.

Scene IV. Testing Visual Memory

The neurologist asks P to describe the buildings and layout of a local street they both know well.

Scene V. Paintings as Pathology? An Argument

The neurologist discovers that P is a talented amateur painter. Upon examining a portfolio of his paintings, he concludes that P’s illness is reflected in these works, which have moved from representational figurative painting to the purely abstract. This conclusion angers Mrs P, who insists that the change in her husband’s painting style is an expression of his artistic development, not of his deepening illness.

Scene VI. The Prescription

As P continues enjoying his tea, Mrs P explains to the neurologist how her husband manages, through music, to cope with daily life in spite of his perceptual problems.

Scene VII. Epilogue

The neurologist delivers his concluding remarks on the case.

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