This summer, Opera Saratoga presents the world premiere of Ellen West, a new opera by acclaimed composer Ricky Ian Gordon and Pulitzer Prize winning poet Frank Bidart that explores the emotional, psychological and physical challenges of a woman struggling with perceptions of her body, her relationship with food, and the world closing in around her.
In tandem with the world premiere production of Ellen West, Opera Saratoga is presenting a free community symposium at Skidmore College’s Filene Hall on Monday, June 17th at 7:00pm: Ellen West and Disordered Eating: The Intersection of Art, Understanding, and Empathy.
Frank Bidart’s poem Ellen West, upon which the opera is based, was inspired by a real-life, early 20th-century woman who suffered from body dysmorphia and ultimately succumbed to its bedfellow, bulimia. Using “Ellen West” as a pseudonym for his patient, Swiss psychiatrist Ludwig Binswanger published The Case of Ellen West: An Anthropological-Clinical Study in 1944, which remains a well-known and historically important case study in the field today. Dr. Binswanger’s paper was among the first to pay attention to a patient’s struggle of death anxiety and death obsession alongside the struggle with body image and bulimia.
Opera Saratoga has an ongoing commitment to engage with the community through the production of contemporary operas that address vital issues. In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. The Community Symposium on June 17th will bring together the creative team behind Ellen West- including the writers, performers and director - alongside partners from HPA/Livewell, the New York Capital Region’s largest provider of support services for those with eating disorders, to explore the background and creation of Ellen West, the issues surrounding disordered eating that are portrayed in the opera, and what resources are available in our community for those impacted by disordered eating.
This Community Symposium is made possible with generous support from The Poetry Foundation, The Saratoga Foundation, MVP Healthcare, and The Dake Family Foundation/Stewart’s Shops.