Past Shows


Artist’s Praise

The opera turns the story of that campy film's star into a somberly ritualistic meditation on public versus private identities.
— Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

Gordon's opera Acquanetta draws its irresistible appeal above all from the continual ecstasy of vital, forward chasing, metrical patterns copied over one another.... There is no dull second in this thrilling, entertaining work.
— Eleonore Büning, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

A fascinating experience of modern psychological theater.
— Hanns Mänhardt, Super Sonntag

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About the Show

World Premiere, Chamber Version
January 9-13 at 7:30pm and January 14 at 6pm

At Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center

In the new opera Acquanetta, the spirit of 1940s horror movies is turned inside out in a bravura, one-act deconstruction of the genre that explores how vision relates to identity. Characters include the mad scientist Doctor, the insistent Ape, the reluctant Brainy Woman, the visionary Director and the beautiful Acquanetta, aka Mildred Davenport, an actress who disguised her identity. Acquanetta examines the ways the movie camera manipulates how we see and are seen. In soaring, sometimes comic and always indelible songs that capture the heightened drama of horror films, these vivid characters reveal their inner longings and emotional shadows in what is ultimately a haunting meditation on the meaning of identity, transformation, stereotypes and typecasting, set in the heyday of Hollywood gloss.

Composer Michael Gordon
Librettist Deborah Artman
Director Daniel Fish
Conductor Daniela Candillari

Scenic Designers Amy Rubin & Jim Findlay 
Video Designer Josh Higgason
Costume Designer Terese Wadden
Sound Designer Garth MacAleavey
Lighting Designer Barbara Samuels

With Bang on a Can Opera and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street

Acquanetta Mikaela Bennett
Brainy Woman Amelia Watkins
Ape Eliza Bagg
Doctor Timur
Director Matt Boehler
Chorus Members of The Choir of Trinity Wall Street

Produced by Beth Morrison Projects in association with Bang on a Can and Trinity Church Wall Street. The world premiere chamber version of Acquanetta was commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects with lead commissioning support by Linda & Stuart Nelson. Acquanetta originally premiered in a Grand Opera format in 2006 in Aachen, Germany. 

Co-presented with Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center

Acquanetta was made possible by our PROTOTYPE 2018 sponsor, Meyer Sound.


This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Show run time: 70 minutes

Photo Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC

Artist Bio

Michael Gordon (Composer) has produced a strikingly diverse body of work over the past 30 years, ranging from large-scale pieces for high-energy ensembles and major orchestral commissions to works conceived specifically for the recording studio. Transcending categorization, his music represents the collision of mysterious introspection and brutal directness. This season Gordon receives premieres of his music worldwide: this new arrangement Acquanetta, commissioned by the Prototype Festival; Road Trip, premiered by the Bang on a Can All-Stars, co-written with David Lang and Julia Wolfe, and commissioned by BAM’s Next Wave Festival; a new orchestral work for the Miami City Ballet; and the German premiere of his piano concerto The Unchanging Sea, performed by the MDR Symphony. Gordon’s recent works have included Big Space, commissioned by the BBC Proms and premiered by the Bang on a Can All-Stars; a concert-length work for choir, Anonymous Man, commissioned and premiered by The Crossing, and three new works for orchestra: Natural History, written for the 100th Anniversary of the US National Parks and premiered at Crater Lake in Oregon; Observations on Air, a concerto for bassoon, commissioned by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for soloist Peter Whelan; and The Unchanging Sea, a piano concerto for Tomoko Mukaiyama, commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and The Rotterdam Philharmonic. Gordon has been commissioned by Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the BBC Proms, the Seattle Symphony, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Ensemble Modern, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, among many others. His recordings include Timber Remixed, Dystopia, Rushes, Timber, Weather, Light is Calling, Decasia, (purgatorio) POPOPERA, Van Gogh, Trance, and Big Noise from Nicaragua. Gordon is co-founder and co-artistic director of New York's legendary music collective Bang on a Can. His music is published by Red Poppy Music (ASCAP) and is distributed worldwide by G. Schirmer, Inc.

Deborah Artman (Librettist) is a poet, fiction writer, and librettist whose career has been defined by a restless urge to explore new forms and collaborate often with artists in other media. She has worked in music, theater, publishing, film, radio and education. In addition to Acquanetta, she worked previously with the composer Michael Gordon as well as with David Lang and Julia Wolfe on the oratorios and music-theater pieces, Shelter (2005) and Lost Objects (2004), which both had their U.S. premieres at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and have toured across the country and around the world. Her texts have been described by reviewers as “breathtaking,” “spare, meditative,” “ephemeral,” “clever, humorous,” and “a journey of wrenching emotions.” Additional music projects include The Highwater Trilogy, a film by Bill Morrison (2005); Keeper, a choral piece by Wolfe (2000); and Music for Gracious Living (1997), a music-theater piece for actor and string quartet by Lang. Since the early 1980s, Artman has worked in theater and performance in New York City as a dramaturg, writer, co-writer, director, performer, production manager and an “extra set of eyes” for an extraordinary array of writers, actors, singers, choreographers and performance artists, including the great Laurie Carlos, Jenny Romaine, Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Hagedorn, Deborah Karpel, Robbie McCauley, Jawole Zollar, Evangeline Johns and many more. Her long collaboration with Laurie Carlos most recently included directing The Pork Chop Wars, Carlos’s “performance novel.” A former assistant to the editor Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at Doubleday Publishers, Artman went on to have a wide-ranging career as a freelance editor, working on many books by or about outstanding artists, including performance artist John Kelly (Aperture), choreographer Jerome Robbins (Booth Clibborn/Abrams) and bass player Tony Levin (Papa Bear Records). Among Artman’s awards are fiction fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the MacDowell Colony. Her stories, poems and essays have appeared in numerous national journals, including The New York Times Magazine, American Short Fiction and Puerto del Sol. 

Daniel Fish (Director) is a New York-based director who makes work across the boundaries of theater, film and opera. He draws on a broad range of forms and subject matter including plays, film scripts, contemporary fiction, essays and found audio. His recent work includes Who Left This Fork Here (2015), Oklahoma! (2015), The Source (2014), Eternal (2013) and Britten’s Owen Wingrave (2013). His work has been seen at theaters and festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe including the Onassis Center (Athens), the Walker Arts Center, PuSH, Teatro Nacional D. Maria, Lisbon/Estoril Film Festival, Vooruit, Festival TransAmériques, BAM Next Wave, Noorderzon Festival, the Chocolate Factory, the Public Theater’s Under The Radar, Opera Philadelphia/Curtis Opera Theater, American Repertory Theater, Richard B. Fisher Center at Bard College, Yale Repertory Theater, McCarter Theater, Signature Theater, Shakespeare Theater Company, Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus, Staatstheater Braunschweig, and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Residencies and commissions include the MacDowell Colony, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Mass MOCA, the Chocolate Factory, the Bushwick Starr and LMCC/ Governor’s Island.  

Daniela Candillari (Conductor) is a sought-after conductor, pianist and composer having worked with preeminent artists around the world. A native of Slovenia, she served the Slovenian National Opera as Assistant Conductor, Chorus Master, and Principal Coach for over twenty productions. She has served as Assistant Conductor for the European Opera Centre in partnership with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and Sarasota Opera. As a collaborative pianist, she performed at Carnegie Hall with Julian Wachner and Novus NY and has worked with artists including Bryn Terfel, Dame Felicity Lott, Håkan Hagegård, Carol Vaness, Martina Arroyo, Dominic Argento, and William Bolcom. Ms. Candillari is the founder and Artistic Director of Gravity Shift, a New York based chamber orchestra, and has recorded for NPR, Austrian Radio Broadcast Television, Slovenian National Radio and TV, and Serbian National TV. Recent highlights include serving as music director for Extraordinary Measures, a play by Eve Ensler, covering Julian Wachner on his new opera, Rev. 23, during the PROTOTYPE Festival, joining the music staff at The Chautauqua Opera as Assistant Conductor to Steven Osgood, conducting the world premiere of Stefania de Kenessey’s opera Bonfire of the Vanities at Museo del Barrio in New York City, leading a performance of Hannah Lash’s Beowulf at OPERA America’s New Opera Showcase with members of Novus NY, and leading a workshop of Rachel Peters’ and Royce Vavrek’s opera Wild Beast of the Bungalow for the Center for Contemporary Opera. Future engagements include her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut leading performances of Greg Spears’ Fellow Travelers, conducting Acquanetta at the 2018 PROTOTYPE Festival, with Bang on a Can All-Stars as the orchestra, and leading the Manhattan School of Music Philharmonia in a concert including Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3.

Jim Findlay (Co-Scenic Designer) works across boundaries as a theater artist, visual artist, and film-maker.  His most recent work includes his original performances Vine of the Dead (2015), Dream of the Red Chamber (2014) and the direction and design of David Lang's Whisper Opera as well as the unreleased 3D film Botanica. His video installation in collaboration with Ralph Lemon, "Meditation", is in the permanent collection of the Walker Art Center. He was a founding member of the Collapsable Giraffe and was a founder of the recently resurrected Collapsable Hole performance space in the West Village. In addition to his work as an independent artist, he maintains a long career as a collaborator with many theater, performance and music artists including Daniel Fish, Aaron Landsman, the Wooster Group, Ridge Theater, Bang on a Can, Ralph Lemon, and Stew and Heidi Rodewald.  His work has been seen at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, BAM, Arena Stage, A.R.T. and over 50 cities internationally. In 2015 he received the Foundation for Contemporary Art Artist Grant and his previous awards include 3 Obies, 2 Bessies, 2 Princess Grace Awards, Lortel and Hewes Awards and residencies at Baryshnikov Arts Center, MacDowell, UCross, MassMOCA and Mt Tremper Arts

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street (Choir), one of the oldest and most vibrant Episcopal parishes, is located in the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District, where it has created a dynamic home for music ministries. Trinity offers an unparalleled array of free, inspiring programming by world-class performers in historic spaces throughout the year, in addition to liturgical music at worship services. Trinity’s music program incorporates high quality music education and outreach to youth in New York City, furthering Trinity’s mission to build neighborhoods and foster faithful leadership. Led by Julian Wachner, music at Trinity ranges from large-scale oratorios to chamber music, and from intimate a cappella singing to jazz improvisation. Trinity’s roster of resident ensembles includes The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, new music orchestra NOVUS NY, Trinity Baroque Orchestra, the semi-professional choir Downtown Voices, Trinity Youth Chorus, Trinity ISO Florentine Youth Orchestra, and the Family Choir. Many concerts at Trinity are professionally filmed and webcast live at The Rev. Dr. William Lupfer is Rector of Trinity Church Wall Street and the Rev. Phillip Jackson is Vicar of Trinity Church Wall Street.

Bang on a Can Opera (Ensemble) is dedicated to making music new.  Since its first Marathon concert in 1987, Bang on a Can has been creating an international community dedicated to innovative music, wherever it is found.  With adventurous programs, it commissions new composers, performs, presents, and records new work, develops new audiences, and educates the musicians of the future.  Bang on a Can is building a world in which powerful new musical ideas flow freely across all genres and borders. Bang on a Can plays “a central role in fostering a new kind of audience that doesn’t concern itself with boundaries.  If music is made with originality and integrity, these listeners will come” (The New York Times). Bang on a Can has grown to a multi-faceted performing arts organization with a broad range of year-round international activities. Bang on a Can’s inventive and aggressive approach to programming and presentation has created a large and vibrant international audience made up of people of all ages who are rediscovering the value of contemporary music.

Artist Statement

Deborah Artman, Librettist
November 2017

The New York Times obituary in 2004 makes no mention of Mildred Davenport. “Acquanetta, 83, A Star of B Movies,” the headline reads, with a few brief paragraphs describing the local celebrity, former model and B-movie actress who died in Arizona. “There's something intriguing and not quite right about this obit,” the composer Michael Gordon said to me then, and he asked me to discover more about the woman with the one-word moniker.
Her past is a mystery. Acquanetta arrived in New York City in the early 1940s, claiming Native American roots. With a come-hither stare and sensuous pout, she quickly became a pinup model and a darling of the celebrity press. To boost her career, gossip columnist Walter Winchell and newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst changed her identity: she was now a Latin bombshell –– the Venezuelan Volcano –– whose good fortune continued with a Hollywood movie contract. In 1943, Acquanetta lit up the screen in the B-movie horror film and now cult classic, “Captive Wild Woman.” Stunning and exotic, she played the untamable and gorgeous creation resulting from a mad scientist’s experiment on an ape, a role the young actress sizzled in and played so well a sequel was soon in the can. So began a brief career in bread-and-butter films that ended only a few years later when Acquanetta inexplicably walked away from the Hollywood studio system.
Why did Acquanetta turn her back on her contract with Universal Pictures at the height of her career? In 2004, when I first researched her past, there was little to be found. The more I unearthed, the more elusive her origins became. Was she born on an Indian reservation near Cheyenne, Wyoming? Was she raised in industrial Norristown, Pennsylvania?
Michael Gordon and I decided to base our narrative on the defining moment of Acquanetta’s career: the extraordinary scene in “Captive Wild Woman” where the mad doctor conducts his experiment and unveils his ravishing creation. Researching the lives of the actors and director of “Captive Wild Woman” gave me plenty to work with. The mad scientist Doctor, the insistent Ape, the reluctant Brainy Woman, the visionary Director and the beautiful monster herself, Acquanetta, gather in this re-imagining of that fateful experiment. These vivid characters reveal their inner longings and emotional shadows in what is ultimately a meditation on the meaning of identity, transformation, stereotypes and typecasting, set in the heyday of Hollywood gloss. 


Acquanetta detail