‘Finding Wright’ Opera turns spotlight to sister of Wright Brothers

The opera will be performed at the Schuster Center on Feb. 25 and 27. Photo of the Schuster Performing Arts Center courtesy of Flickr.

Alex Goodlive | Staff Writer

On Feb. 25 and 27, Dayton Opera will present “Finding Wright,” their first fully-performed opera at the Schuster Center since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kathleen Clawson, stage director and dramaturg, explained that the opera is based around Katherine Wright Haskell, the sister of Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Years ago, Clawson met with librettist Andrea Fellows Fineberg and gave her a tour of Dayton. They visited Woodland Cemetery where they discovered the Wright brothers had a sister. Intrigued, they quickly began to research Katherine before deciding they had a story that involved her support of her brother’s work and her relationships including her falling out with Orville. The opera is being produced by an all-women team consisting of Clawson, Fineberg, composer Laura Kaminsky and conductor Susan Sheston. “Finding Wright” will be Clawson’s 17th opera directed for Dayton Opera.

“I found the story of Katharine Wright to be fascinating,” Clawson said. “And have been surprised that like me, many people in Dayton don’t know about her. I am excited to share her remarkable life through this art form that I love.”

Photo provided.

Not wanting the story to be biographical, Clawson and Fineberg introduced another character: a fictional woman named Charlotte (Charlie), an aerospace engineer in the present day who faces struggles of her own. The opera switches back and forth between the two women. Katharine lives a life of ups and downs, losing her mother, supporting her brothers and their groundbreaking invention and falling in love at the disapproval of Orville. Katharine does not reconcile with Orville for many years. Meanwhile, Charlie learns about Katharine following the loss of her husband and feels a connection as she finds her next step.

Clawson has long loved music and the performing arts. After graduating from the University of New Mexico with a major in music, she traveled as a performer, and in 1999 she performed as a soloist with the Dayton Philharmonic. Around the same time, she began stage directing. In 2009 she directed for Dayton Opera for the first time and noted that she has returned “every year since.”

“Finding Wright” will be told entirely in English and is less than two hours long. 

“It is a compelling story that ties a relatable character from the present day to a character from the past,” Clawson stated.

“The message of this opera is to savor every moment of your life and to create memories with those you love,” Clawson explained. “Even through great loss, there is a path forward.”

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