An Opera

Music by Daron Hagen

Words by Barbara Grecki and Daron Hagen


When she checks in to the Cypress, a run-down pensione in Morocco, the life of Lizzy Holmes, a young American travel writer, unravels. She becomes entangled in the world of its denizens, all of whose lives orbit Ahmed, a charismatic, handsome, morally pliable Tunisian. Teddy, a dissolute English expat, owner of the Cypress, keeps Ahmed in his employ to satisfy all desires. Not knowing that Ahmed is married to Asilah, an Arabic woman who was trafficked, sold, branded in shame, Lizzy befriends her and helps her to learn English. The ensuing love triangle fuels Lizzy’s self-destructive submission to aphasia and drugs. A plan devised for Asilah to leave the country ends in betrayal and death.

Alerted to Asilah’s tragic death by Lizzy’s increasingly distressing letters, and drawn to Morocco by her concern for her, Clare, Lizzy’s older sister, arrives in Tangiers in the company of Harry Hopkins, an American businessman she met in Paris. She does not know that Teddy and Harry traffic together in young Arab girls. Ahmed discovers that Harry is responsible for the rape of his wife. He draws a knife and attempts to avenge Asilah’s death. Teddy, who has signed ownership of the Cypress over to Ahmed as an expression of his love for him, takes the knife, and plunges it into Harry’s chest. Teddy is arrested, but confident of his release. Lizzy has vanished. Clare, determined to find Lizzy, remains at the Cypress, with Ahmed.

Hagen’s complex score works to underline issues with leitmotifs, musical cues assigned to different characters, and music that never settles or rests. When singers get soaring arias, they emerge naturally from this intricate texture. Hagen has a gift for writing sensually rich tunes and uses this skill to release the music at important moments.
— Selena Frye, Louisville.com
Hagen traffics all but exclusively in acoustic tonality, so when I heard that electronic elements were involved in this production I was very interested to hear how he would approach it. Consisting of pre-recorded and digitally manipulated sounds, including those natural (rain and thunder) and human (ululations, vocal glissandi, and a jazz trio presented as a shortwave radio broadcast), each electronic addition was subtle and organic and added an extra dimension to the proceedings.
— Andrew Sigler, New Music Box


23 June 2015
The Kentucky Opera / Roger Zahab
Actors Theater of Louisville
Louisville, KY


  • Libretto Development: Central City Opera Theater, Philadelphia, PA, Winter 2013
  • College Staged Performances: Butler Opera Center, Austin, TX, November 2013


113 minutes, with one intermission


  • Lizzy Holmes / Woman #4 (Lyric Soprano)
  • Asilah / Woman #1 (Soprano)
  • Habiba / Woman #2 (Soprano)
  • Clare Holmes / Woman #3 (Mezzo-soprano)
  • Trafficked Woman / Woman #5 (Mezzo-soprano)
  • Ahmed (Tenor)
  • Teddy Forsythe (Baritone)
  • Harry Hopkins (Bass-baritone)


Large Version (24 players): fl(=picc).ob(=CA).cl(=Ebcl.bcl).bn-pft(=synth)-hn-perc-timp-str( players)

Small Version (11 players): fl(=picc).ob(=CA).cl(=bcl).bn-pft-timp-2vln.vla.vlc.cb

A Woman in Morocco spins a complicated tale over two fast-paced acts. Hagen’s multilayered score shifts nimbly and deftly, never foresaking tonality though unafraid to employ some modernist expressionism or minimalist simplicity when needed. In numerous vocal ensemble moments — intriguingly presented at times with some singers offstage accompanying onstage singers — Hagen offered shimmering, lyrically rich sounds.
— Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Austin360.com

Watch Daron's video blog in which he documents the development of the opera.