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A Woman of Salt

A trio of composers premier new works
Laura Wayte
Laura Wayte

Audiences will have the opportunity to experience an intimate evening of contemporary music when three composers show off their opera chops at Tsunami Books at 7 pm Friday, Feb. 10.

The Woman of Salt: An Interactive Project in Opera features original compositions by Daniel Daly and Jason Heald and a scene from The Woman of Salt, composed by Eugene’s Anice Thigpen and performed by soprano Laura Wayte, pianist Nathalie Fortin and cellist Kathryn Brunhaver. 

We recently caught up with Wayte, who’s understandably smitten with Thigpen’s work. After all, it’s not every day someone writes a piece of music for your voice. 

“I love it,” Wayte says. “It is the most amazing compliment and honor, and it also makes me step up into a new level of my game. With new music, there is no accepted history of style attached to the music, and it is up to me to establish that. Such fun and such freedom.”  

Wayte says that, in a sense, the opera found her: “One day my friend Anice and my husband [UO Music Professor Lawrence Wayte] came out of a composition lesson and told me Anice was writing an opera.” 

The Woman of Salt has been a symbiotic, multi-year undertaking, Wayte explains, with a rich, creative dynamic shared among the composer, singer and musical consultant. Laura and Lawrence Wayte live across the street from Thigpen; their quiet street in the South Eugene Hills has proven a nutritive environment for the performing arts to grow.

“One day, Anice knocked on our front door and asked my husband, Larry, who has a master’s degree in music composition, if she could take lessons from him to learn how to write music,” Laura Wayte recalls. 

“Larry became kind of a coach for Anice as she tried to get onto the page the music she was hearing. Three and a half years later, we drank a toast to this opera Anice had created.”

Thigpen’s score trains a bright light on the story of Ahdoo, wife of the Old Testament figure Lot. In the biblical tale, Ahdoo ignores warnings and looks back at her home as it’s destroyed, turning her instantly to a pillar of salt.

“Anice’s piece, entitled Dilemma, is the moment in the opera when Lot’s wife, Ahdoo, begins to hear voices encouraging her not to leave Sodom and Gomorrah,” Wayte says. 

In Genesis, God rewards the obedience of Lot, Ahdoo, and two daughters by allowing them to leave the town and avoid destruction.

“But two of their daughters are married to men from those towns, and they won’t be allowed to leave. This is a problem for Ahdoo, who despite the warnings not to, decides to look back at her daughters and witness their deaths,” Wayte says.

This performance is just a taste of the complete opera, which will premier in June.

Catch The Woman of Salt: An Interactive Project in Opera at 7 pm Friday, Feb. 10, at Tsunami Books, 2585 Willamette St. To purchase tickets visit lanearts.org; $10-$20 sliding scale, with proceeds benefiting The Woman of Salt project and Lane Arts Council.