An opera about listening


It is well known that listening plays a significant role for experiencing opera. The composer and musician Carlos Alberto Augusto has taken this idea one step further and has, inspired through the life stories of two hearing impaired women, created an opera “TMIE” in which listening itself becomes the central theme.

The full name of the opera is “TMIE, standing on the threshold of the outside world. From the spirals of the inner self.” TMIE is the name of a gene that is important for the proper development of the hair cells in the inner ear. It is one of many genes that can be responsible for causing deafness. The opera is sung by the Portuguese soprano Marina Pacheco.

The opera tells the story of two women, the goddess Selene, who travels through the universe, as well as Mesedjer, who reports on the meanderings of her personal experiences of listening. Entering into the story is the greek philosopher Empedocles (about 495-435 BC) who first theorized about the ear and listening. The composer mediates the tension between mankind and universal experience and the inner world of the individual, exploring these themes. He (Empedocles) meditates the seeming conflict between humans surrounding environment and their inner world of being, in which every individual is as the composer means.

Additionally, for the two women protagonists there are real people who serve as inspiration. The goddess Selene represents the real life Henrietta Leavitt (1868-1921), a famous astronomer in the 19th century who developed a system for measuring the dimensions of the universe. Even though she was almost completely deaf, she was able to “hear” what the universe was “telling” her. For Mesedjer, the role model was the Canadian Beverly Biderman. She grew up almost completely deaf as well and at the age of 46 received a cochlear implant. In her book, she describes the remarkable experience of learning to hear for the first time as an adult.

The composer Augusto was fascinated by the impressive descriptions that these women who were unable to hear gave in their accounts. He himself has twice experienced temporary hearing loss so has some first-hand experience, but hasn’t really had much interaction with others who are deaf. He says, “The opera is an artistic path to engage the public and help them understand the process of hearing, create a better understanding of this phenomenon. It is not primarily about making deaf people more visible.”

He does however think that people with proper hearing ability need to learn to hear more effectively and that people like Beverly Biderman, who had to painstakingly learn how to do this, can serve as examples for all of us. This is the message that  both the public that hears normally and those that are hearing impaired need to understand. In this way both groups will gain insight. 

The premiere of the opera is eagerly anticipated on September 8th in “Oculto da Ajuda" in Lisbon. Beverly Biderman is very much looking forward to seeing herself on stage and is very excited about the piece. She hopes that the opera goes on tour following the opening. 


Monika Seidel

Specktrum Hören July-August 2016

(English translation Guenther Krueger)