Shining Brow is an English language opera by Daron Hagen, first performed by the Madison Opera in Madison, Wisconsin, April 21, 1993. It is based on events in the life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Daron Hagen asked the Irish poet Paul Muldoon to write the libretto while the two were both in residency at the MacDowell Colony, in Peterborough, New Hampshire during the summer of 1989.
The action takes place in Chicago, Illinois, at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and in Berlin, Germany, between 1903 and 1914.
The Cliff Dwellers' Club, Chicago, 1903. Architect Louis Sullivan, mentor and friend of Frank Lloyd Wright, has been drinking all afternoon. He muses on his estrangement from Wright.
Wright's studio, Oak Park, Illinois, 1903. Wright pitches plans for a new house to wealthy Chicagoans Edwin and Mamah Cheney. He and Mamah flirt; her husband is concerned with costs. After they leave, Wright muses on Mamah; his wife Catherine overhears him and they quarrel.
The Cheney House construction site, six months later. Workmen sing, townswomen gossip; Wright and Mamah arrive to view the work as their liaison deepens. Edwin arrives and there is a showdown: Mamah tells Edwin she is leaving him for Wright. Afterwards, Edwin laments the fact that, while he has gained a house, he has lost his wife.
Mamah's apartment in Berlin, 1910. As Mamah translates some verses from German, she comes to terms with her strongly ambivalent feelings about her life with Wright, recognizing, despite her love for him, that her dream of an equal partnership with him is and will remain just that. Sullivan, in Chicago, echoes the sentiment.
Taliesin, Spring Green, Christmas, 1911. Wright delivers a prepared statement attempting to explain his living out of wedlock with Mamah while still married to Catherine. Mamah, though at his side, is clearly disaffected.
Taliesin, Summer, 1914. During the course of a cocktail party, Wright pursues a new love interest as Mamah cannot help but observe; various clients, guests, colleagues, and employees — including an inebriated barbershop quartet of newspaper reporters — comment.
The Cliff Dwellers' Club, later that summer. Wright and Sullivan attempt a reconciliation, but are interrupted by Edwin Cheney, who delivers the news that Mamah's been murdered and Taliesin torched.
The ruins of Taliesin, later that night. The bodies of the dead are arrayed in the smoking remains of the house. A Maid explains that Julian Carleton, Wright's chef, has been found, his throat burned from drinking hydrochloric acid. Wright gropes for a way to go on, finds in the pocket of Mamah's coat a letter that gives him consolation of a sort. He vows to rebuild the house in her memory.