Hopper’s Wife

Composed by Stewart Wallace
Libretto by Michael Korie

Long Beach Opera, California, 1997
Directed by Christopher Alden
Conducted by Michael Barrett
Set and Costume Design by Allen Moyer
Lighting Design by Heather Carson
With Chris Pedro Trakas,
Juliana Gondek, Lucy Schaufer

New York City Opera, 2016
Directed by Andreas Mitisek
Conducted by James Lowe
Designed by Sean Cawelti,
Ilkido Debreczeni, Susan Roth
With Elise Quagliata,
Justin Ryan, Melanie Long


Hopper’s Wife is not for everyone. That can’t be stated too strongly. Long Beach Opera warns its patrons that the production contains nudity, pornography, tobacco smoke, fog and gunshots. If that’s a problem stay away. If you hold Hollywood and its early icons–its Charlie Chaplins, Clark Gables, Eva Gardners–in high moral esteem, stay away. If it will spoil your appreciation of the powerful stillness and affectless emotion in Edward Hopper’s paintings to consider their creator a violent, drunken, vulgar, suicidal misogynist, you probably don’t need this. But if you want a notion of one possible direction for American opera into the next millennium, Hopper’s Wife needs to be your destination. It is not a particularly likable opera and certainly not nice, but it is brave, bold and important. Korie offers exciting images and horribly crude ones side by side; clever rhymes intentionally confuse smut with art…. Hopper’s Wife is an arresting attempt at the level of music, poetry and theater to grapple with one of the most meaningful issues in art today, namely how, in a postmodern age dominated by popular culture, can high art remain meaningful.”Press

— Mark Swed, The Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1997

Hopper’s Wife… uses the troubled marriage of painters Edward and Jo Hopper to explore gender conflicts and the struggle between high and low art in contemporary American culture. Abandoning any pretense to biographical accuracy, composer Stewart Wallace and librettist Michael Korie use a peculiar kind of mythic-historic fantasy to heighten the allegorical dimension of Edward Hopper’s real-life domination of his bitter and frustrated wife…. Jo angrily leaves Edward, fed up with his womanizing and lack of support for her own painting career. She moves to Hollywood where, in the work’s most dazzling set-piece she transforms herself into another mythically resonant real-life figure: Hedda Hopper, the vindictive gossip columnist who egged on the witch-hunts of the McCarthy era. The quirky conceit broadens the scope of the opera beyond domestic squabbling and into an examination of Edward Hopper’s struggle to survive as a serious painter in a culture dominated by the crass mechanics of the Hollywood movie industry. With its odd and sophisticated premise, the production makes a case for opera as a genuinely adult art form, one able to confront and decry the current ‘dumbed-down’ state of American Culture.”

— Michael Duncan, Art in America, February 1997

“Here’s an American opera that does not stand as the latest feeble rewrite of either Puccini or Alban Berg, by creators who honor (as did Mozart, Verdi, and even Wagner) the notion that great opera is as beholden to the gods of entertainment as to high art, and have invented their own musical language and grammar to prove their point. May their tribe increase.”

— Alan Rich, LA Weekly, June 20-26, 1997

“Wallace and Korie, the team that wrote Harvey Milk, this time imagines an engrossing fantasy meshing real people of the 1940s with fictional lives: artist Edward Hopper, Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, actress Eva Gardner… The singers each delivered showpiece arias, backed by a surprisingly substantial instrumental ensemble of ten. Hopper’s Wife fills up 90 intermissionless minutes in a musical style of easy but pungent eclecticism.”

— Daniel Cariaga, Opera News, October 1997

Hopper’s Wife avoids the plodding chronology of many biographical operas by presenting a quintet of set pieces that focus on character and give each singer the chance to strut their stuff. The imaginative riff on two cultural icons of the mid-20th century made for an entertaining and engaging evening that augurs well for the new-old company’s role in New York’s musical life.”

— Susan Brodie,  Classical Voice North America,  May 2016

“It’s a wild concept that manages to incorporate three outrageously fictional  scenes: the suicide of Hopper (a la Norman Maine in “A Star Is Born”), the murder of Ava by Jo/Hedda, and the epic burning of Hopper works by Jo/Hedda (a la Manderley at the end of Hitchcock’s “Rebecca”) who feels that works showing her “posed like a two-bit stripper” would damage her moral standing.  Fittingly, the 90-minute chamber work closes with an end card (“The End”) that evokes Looney Tunes… It has taken Hopper’s Wife nearly 20 years to journey from California, where it had its premiere, to New York. It may have lost some of the shock value in the meantime, but it has lost none of its ability to draw an audience into its absurdities. And in our current political climate, this tale of reinventing oneself for venal personal ends seems more timely than ever.”

— Richard Sasanow, BWW Opera World.com,  May 2016




Los Angeles Times: “Art, Artifice and Morality”

Los Angeles Times: “‘Hopper’s Wife’: Not for the Faint of Art”

Broadway Opera World: “A Wife for All Seasons”

Hopper’s Wife Libretto