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Tufts Graduate Student Turns Skating Scandal Into Opera

Tufts Graduate Student Turns Skating Scandal Into OperaIn a new opera composed by Tufts graduate student Abigail Al-Doory, the infamous figure skating scandal involving Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan takes center stage.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.08.06] It has been more than a decade since the scandal involving Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan rocked the figure skating world. But the infamous attack on Kerrigan’s knee and the twisted plot behind it was back in the spotlight this week – quite literally – thanks to one Tufts graduate student, who brought the saga to the stage in Tonya and Nancy: The Opera.

“In Tonya and Nancy: The Opera, [Tufts graduate student Abigail] Al-Doory provides 18 movements on the scandal that turned the once-dainty sport of figure skating into a soap opera of whacking, wailing and time spent in jail,” the Associated Press reported about the production, which took place on May 2 at the Zero Arrow Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.

Al-Doory, who will earn a master of arts degree from Tufts in May, composed the music for the opera as a final requirement of her graduate program. She told Boston’s Channel 7 (NBC) that the scandal between the skaters is a great story for an opera.

“The ideas of victory and competitiveness --and we’ve got greed and jealousy and pettiness and violence and all these things – that’s what opera is,” Al-Doory told the news station.

While the outlandish plot of the opera does lend itself to comedy, Al-Doory explained that the production has a more serious point.

"We, as a society, allowed this to happen to two young girls,” she said about Kerrigan and Harding, who were in their mid-20s when the incident unfolded. Kerrigan had just competed against Harding at the 1994 Olympic trials when a man, reportedly hired by Harding’s husband, clubbed her in the knee. Harding was accused of helping to plan the crime and later convicted of covering it up.

“It can't help being absurd and funny because of the situation,” Al-Doory told the AP. “But it's serious.”

It’s serious because, after the incident, both women struggled with having their personal troubles broadcast publicly, she explained to the AP.

"I think they had a lot in common, which is what we wanted to draw out in the opera," Al-Doory told the AP. "They both figured out they had to reclaim their identities. It's a note of hope."

In the opera, Al-Doory portrays the two skaters as a pair, rather than rivals, according to the AP.

“The opera is a brutal expose on Harding's home life, showing her as a victim of maternal and spousal abuse,” according to the AP. The script, the news organization reported, is largely based on newspaper headlines and actual dialogue and events from the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Not surprisingly, the production also includes its own version of Kerrigan’s now-famous, post-attack cry of “Why? Why?” In Al-Doory’s opera, Kerrigan sings "Why me?” instead, according to the AP.

“Al-Doory's goal is to make the viewers rethink their impression of Harding and Kerrigan, maybe send them away with a tune in their heads,” the AP reported.

And the opera had that effect on at least one member of the audience: Elizabeth Searle, Al-Doory’s aunt, who also wrote the libretto for the piece.

It was “dark and gloomy and absurd,” Searle, who is the author of a novella about the scandal, told the AP. “But at the same time I was kind of moved by it.”




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