Opera Steamboat virtual seminars to tackle neurological health with discussion of 1985 book-turned-opera | SteamboatToday.com

Opera Steamboat virtual seminars to tackle neurological health with discussion of 1985 book-turned-opera

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Opera Steamboat has announced plans to host two virtual seminars this month discussing neurological health themes from the book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” The book was published in 1985 by neurologist Oliver Sacks and was subsequently turned into an opera the following year by composer Michael Nyman.

The seminars will introduce the content of the book and help set the stage for Opera Steamboat’s 2021 performance of the opera.

“These seminars came as an idea to address the health issues around rural Colorado that as an organization we see on a regular basis,” said Andres Cladera, general and artistic director of Opera Steamboat. “Specifically, we wanted to address the neurological illnesses and mental health issues that our community are experiencing, while having difficulty getting treatment and/or support for the caregivers and families.”

Cladera pointed out that up until recently, Steamboat did not have a regular neurologist on staff and patients would have to travel to Denver on a regular basis to seek treatment.

“We have a lot of patrons and community members in Steamboat who have gone through neurological illnesses themselves or have taken care of a family member who has Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimers,” Cladera said. “We want to bring awareness to the topic so that people can think about it and discuss it. It’s not always easy to find treatment or care in rural Colorado.”

“The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” describes the case histories of several of Sacks’ patients with the title based on one case in particular of a patient whom he refers to as “Dr. P,” who suffers from visual agnosia, a neurological condition that leaves him unable to recognize faces and objects.

Speakers for the two seminars will include Dr. Ron Krall, a retired neurologist who lives in Steamboat; Dr. Samantha K. Holden, who is the assistant professor of neurology and medical director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at UCHealth, and Barbara Bronner, a retired licensed medical social worker focusing on issues of aging and caregiver support groups for the Alzheimer’s Association. Cladera will be a fourth speaker, discussing minimalism in the opera and how it relates to neuro illness. 

“Using music as a way of coping and understanding the world is a main theme,” Cladera explained. “When people suffer from neurological disorders, music can help them communicate and cope with their lives.”

Dr. Krall, who owns Off the Beaten Path bookstore with his wife, will discuss the book.

“From a literary standpoint, this is a book that is a piece of remarkable writing and reporting that makes for a wonderful education,” he said. “It illustrates the potential value of art in the treatment of the disease, in particular music, as it enables persons who have experienced some loss of neuro function to engage in relatively normal activities. Additionally, it teaches the importance of empathy for persons who have experienced a loss of function and support for them in obtaining care.”

Those who wish to participate in the seminars can register for the two free seminars on Opera Steamboat’s website at operasteamboat.org/the-man-who-mistook-his-wife-for-a-hat.

The first seminar will take place at 5:30 p.m. Monday and the second at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19. Participants will be emailed a Zoom link once they have registered.

Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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