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Music by
Kenneth Wells

Libretto by
Kenneth Wells, Rickard Roudebush, Gayle Patterson, Matt B. Wells

Stephen Karr

Courtney Selan



The First Lady is a new opera concerning two weeks in the life of Eleanor Roosevelt from the death of FDR to VE Day.

The work uses text and music in the public domain: the first verse and tune of “Yankee Doodle Boy” by George M. Cohan; portions of Truman’s radio speech on VE day (Truman Presidential library); portions of the tune from “America”, based on “God Save the Queen”; a variation on a theme by Antonin Dvorak from the New World Symphony; verses 1-3 and the tune of “Faith of our Fathers”, words by Frederick W. Faber, refrain by James G. Walton; music, St. Catherine, arr. by James G. Walton; sections of the Book of Common Prayer from the Order of the Burial for the Dead; and verses 1, 3, and 5 and the tune for “Onward Christian Soldiers”, words by Sabine Baring-Gould and music by Arthur S. Sullivan. Facts and themes were obtained from a variety of sources and materials in the FDR and Truman Presidential Library, including two letters from Lucy Mercer Rutherford located in the FDR Library and reproduced in other published sources. This is a work of historical fiction, and while based on historical events, takes liberties in depicting characters, names, situations, timing of events, and circumstances and alters or paraphrases these sources to convey the work’s artistic themes. The libretto was copyrighted in 1992, and revised in 2006. The music was written between 1996 and 2006, and the complete, revised work was copyrighted in 2007 – 2010.

The First Lady had it’s world premiere on Friday, February 19, 2010 followed by five additional performances as well as a symposium on Resiliency and Recovery and six speaker sessions featuring women leaders of today: Elyn Saks, Grethen Berland, Bonnie Lowenthal, Loretta Jones, Deborah Butterfield, Bonnie Zima, and Elizabeth Bromley.

The opera was sponsored by the UCLA Semel Institute Health Services and Research Center and needtheater. All performances and speaker sessions were free and open to the public.


Eleanor Roosevelt was widely admired for her energy and resilience at a time when the nation was facing war and economic and social upheaval.

Today, our nation and the world, continue to face various forms of trauma and social challenges, as well as economic stress.  What strategies can we follow to help develop resilient and productive individuals, families, and communities today?  The symposium reviews strategies from science, policy, and the arts to promote resiliency from trauma and disaster and recovery from mental illness.

The symposium was held on February 19th, 2010 and featured keynote speakers: Kavita Patel (formerly of the White House Office of Community Engagement), Robert Bilder (UCLA), and Susan Essock (Columbia University).


Eleanor Roosevelt was widely recognized for setting an example for women leaders that has been followed and built upon ever since.  The pre-opera speaker series featured outstanding women leaders of today in science, arts, and policy.  They shared the story of their development and their own views of their work and their sources of inspiration.  The series honored Elyn Saks (USC, author of The Center Cannot Hold), Bonnie Zima (UCLA), Gretchen Berland (Yale University), Loretta Jones (Healthy African American Families), Carol Mangione (UCLA), Deborah Butterfield (sculptor), and Elizabeth Bromley (UCLA).



Jennifer Wallace: Eleanor Roosevelt
Rebecca Sjowall: Anna Roosevelt Boettiger
Hannah Waldman: Lucy Mercer Rutherford
Lori Ann Fuller: Margaret “Daisy” Suckley
Jayme Alilaw: Laura “Polly” Delano
Allison Foster: Malvania Thompson
Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai: Madame Elizabeth Shumatoff
Julian Fielder: Vice Admiral Ross T. McIntire
Cedric Berry: Chief Petty Officer Arthur Prettyman
Scott Levin: Harry S. Truman
Eric Carampatan: Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Nova Safo: Nicholas Robbins
Dory Schultz: William Hassett/Elliott Roosevelt
DeReau Farrar: Stationmaster
Rickard Roudebush: Priest
Matthew Welch: Priest

Suzanne Anderson
Debbie Dey
Koert Halpin
Matthew Welch
Michael Davis
Javier Delgado
Vivian Delgado
Rijel Glasebrook
Vanessa Hume
Jennifer Miller
Blake Sterling

Timothy Hagen: Flute
Jonathan Marzluf: Oboe
Virginia Figuieredo: Clarinet
Amy Gillick: Bassoon
Steven Mahpar: French Horn
Benjamin Phelps: Timpani
Armen Der-Kevorkian: Violin I
Mishkar Nunez: Violin II
Alison Spieth: Viola
Joo Lee: Cello
Paul Aksman: Bass

W. Scott Smith: Stage Manager
Adam Rigg: Production Designer
DeReau Farrar: Chorus Master
Victoria Kirsch: Principal Voice Coach
Kenneth Wells: Producer
Matt B. Wells: Producer (needtheater)
Victoria Kirsch: Associate Producer
Elizabeth Lizaola: Associate Producer
Patryk Dubert: Production Manager (UCLA)
Amber Fonzen: Production Manger (needtheater)
Joseph Mango: Production Coordinator/Graphics
Tessa Drysdale: Design Assistant
Barbara Castillo: Assistant Producer (UCLA SCA)
Neil Jampolis: Senior Production Advisor
Jessica Hall: Accompanist

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