• Deborah Yaffe

Even more persuadable

Last week, I reported on proliferating Persuasion adaptations – a straight-to-streaming update that aired last December, two period feature films currently in production, and a theatrical adaptation opening off-Broadway this fall. “Persuasion is having quite a year,” I wrote.


Turns out I didn’t know the half of it, because two more Persuasion adaptations are on their way to us:


*A song cycle that tells the story of Persuasion using original lyrics set to Beethoven chamber music will be available for streaming starting tonight and running through Sunday. Tickets cost $15 and give access to the pre-recorded performance all weekend long.


The nine songs, performed by eleven singers, cover roughly the entire novel through the words of Emily King, a writer, editor, and translator with long experience in the music and theater worlds. Parts of eight Beethoven pieces, mostly sonatas and string quartets, provide the soundtrack.


Although Beethoven and Austen never met, they were close contemporaries and may, in fact, have shared a birthday: She was born on December 16, 1775, and since he was baptized on December 17, he is customarily taken to have been born one day earlier, albeit five years before Austen. (He also survived her by nearly ten years.)


I’m a bit bemused by the song cycle’s publicity materials, which describe Persuasion as Austen’s “least read and most fiercely debated” novel – I’d have thought Northanger Abbey was the former and Mansfield Park the latter – but whatever. With luck, Beethoven and Austen will turn out to be an ideal, peanut-butter-and-chocolate-type pairing.


* But if classical music isn’t your bag, you need only wait until next year, when a Persuasion adaptation “without a bonnet in sight. . . . reinvented for the twenty-first century with a foam party and a soundtrack of Frank Ocean, Dua Lipa and Cardi B” is set to open in London. The show, the work of Jeff James and James Yeatman, was first staged in Manchester, England, in 2017.


The new production will open in February at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, a neighborhood of south London, and on April 7, it will move to Alexandra Palace, an iconic Victorian building in north London that hosts entertainment and cultural events under the auspices of a charitable trust.


If you’re keeping score at home, then, you will note that by early next year, we will have had six Persuasions – both period adaptations and modern updates, in TV, cinema, theater, and chamber music versions – between December 2020 and February 2022. That's more adaptations of Persuasion in fourteen months than in the preceding fifty years, if I'm not mistaken.


Why this sudden passion for Austen’s last completed novel? Persuasion is a great book, of course, but it’s been a great book for two hundred years. Why now?


Theories welcome. I’ve got no idea.

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