By Brooke Donald
The Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding soap opera is now a musical opera. The figure skating saga that captivated the country 11 years ago -- with the ubiquitous video of Kerrigan crying "Why me?" after being attacked and hit in the knee -- is the basis for "Nancy and Tonya: The Opera," to be performed at Tufts University next spring.
Kerrigan became a household name when an associate of Harding's clubbed her on the knee with a baton as she left the ice during practice at the 1994 U.S. championships in Detroit.
The attack prevented Kerrigan from competing, but she recovered to win a silver medal at the 1994 Olympic games in Lillehammer a few weeks later. Harding finished out of the running.
"This is the classic envy story and it was just so strange and got stranger by the day," said Elizabeth Searle, who wrote the opera's libretto.
Videotape of Kerrigan -- her face contorted in agony, grabbing her knee and wailing "Why me? Why me?" -- was a TV staple in the days after the attack.
Harding, the cigarette-smoking, pickup-driving bad girl, had said she would "kick some butt" in the Olympics.
Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Stone, and two other men served time for planning and carrying out the attack. Harding pleaded guilty to covering up the attack but didn't serve any time. She received a lifetime ban by the U.S. Figure Skating Association and apologized in person to Kerrigan.
"Tonya and Nancy was the first completely insane scandal that took over the country," Searle said.
Attempts to reach Kerrigan and Harding on Thursday by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful.
The 43-year-old Searle said she did not consult the two skaters about the one-act opera, which was pieced together using actual quotes uttered by the women and others involved in the scandal. Searle plucked from newspaper reports, FBI transcripts and her previous novella about the skating rivals, "Celebrities in Disgrace," which is being made into a short film. Tufts graduate student Abigail Al Dorry is writing the music.
The opera opens with Kerrigan and Harding holding dueling news conferences at the 1994 Olympics, just weeks after the attack on Kerrigan.
"There are elements of parody in it, but I really feel for this story," Searle said. "Girls in America are either raised to be Tonyas or Nancys. I think any girl can relate to these two women and what they went through."
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