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Singing the Praises of Paradise Lost

May 11, 2010 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University Professor Regina Schwartz has been teaching John Milton's "Paradise Lost" for three decades. A leading Milton scholar, she is determined to bring the prophetic voice of the 17th century poet to a wider audience.

Schwartz's efforts to give the epic poem about the Fall of Man its contemporary due will be realized in a half-day symposium at the Newberry Library (May 15) and a staged reading by equity actors of her adaption of "Paradise Lost" into a 2-½ hour play (May 22). Artistic director Jeff Christian of the Shakespeare Project of Chicago is directing.

Especially important to Schwartz's efforts to breathe new life into Milton's masterpiece is an opera titled "Losing Paradise" that she and MacArthur "genius" Award-winning composer John Eaton recently completed.

Not yet realized on stage, "Losing Paradise" is sure to find a home, Schwartz said. She gave two reasons: the compelling nature of one of the greatest literary works in the English language, and the genius of musician Eaton, who was described in the London Financial Times as "the most interesting opera composer writing in America today." Of Eaton, Schwartz said: "I have never met anyone who crawled inside ‘Paradise Lost' like he did. Collaborating with him was pure joy."

Saturday, May 15, symposium, 9:30 a.m. to noon, Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St., Chicago: Schwartz, a former president of the Milton Society of America, will join other eminent Milton scholars in a free and public symposium designed to introduce Milton to a general audience. Topics include Milton's life, political vision, religious thought and poetry. "While Milton is well known as a great poet, he is lesser known as a major architect of the English Revolution who served in Cromwell's cabinet and sacrificed his eyesight to the cause of English liberty," said Schwartz, Northwestern professor of English and law.

Saturday, May 22, 10 a.m., dramatic reading of a play adapted from "Paradise Lost," also at Chicago's Newberry Library: Equity actors working with Shakespeare Project of Chicago artistic director Jeff Christian will premiere a free and public staged reading of the play Schwartz adapted from Milton's greatest work. Goodman Theatre resident director Chuck Smith served as a consultant. "'Paradise Lost' asks why there is suffering in the world," Schwartz said. "My adaptation of Milton's remarkable work is an exploration of human responsibility for destroying the flourishing of humanity and the planet."

Schwartz and Eaton worked together on the libretto for the opera, "Losing Paradise," using Schwartz's theatrical adaptation as a foundation. Eaton, whose works have been performed by the San Francisco Opera, Cincinnati Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and Santa Fe Opera, took two years to compose the operatic score. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a new opera by the prominent composer of microtonal music, will premiere this summer.

This month's "Paradise Lost" events at the Newberry Library are co-sponsored by Northwestern University and the Newberry's Center for Renaissance Studies. For more information, phone (312) 255-3514 or visit the Newberry's Center for Renaissance Studies site at http://www.newberry.org/renaissance/renaissancehome.html.

Topics: Campus Life