Taking Up Serpents

Washington National Opera

  • I found Taking Up Serpents so haunting that I returned to experience it a second time. To my mind this work surpasses all the one-hour operas that have been introduced through this program, and many have been strong indeed.

    DC Theatre Scene
  • …we’re not in “opera land” anymore.

    Herald Magazine
  • …we are transported to Kayla’s inner world of poetry and big dreams.

    DC Theatre Scene
  • …a journey that feels epic, even mythical.

    DC Theatre Scene
  • The opera leaves us with questions of ambiguity. Its beauty and emotional power continues to haunt.

    DC Theatre Scene
  • Director Alison Moritz brought the same visual economy to this effective staging as in her work on Missy Mazzoli’s Proving Up last year.

    Washington Classical Review
  • In a genius move of director Alison Moritz's spare production is that the tubes also double as snakes from the pit, when the young Kayla goes serpent hunting with her dad, a bonding experience gone wrong.

    Broadway World
  • Director Alison Moritz focused the action and made the most of the simple set…

    Wall Street Journal
  • Director Alison Moritz quickly fills in an up-to-date reality and grounds the piece. With the barest of parts…she conveys a well-known panorama.

    Herald Magazine

Production Details

Production Highlights

  • World Premiere, New Production
  • Washington National Opera, 2019

Creative Team

Kamala Sankaram
Jerre Dye
Alison Moritz
Lidiya Yankovskaya
Costume Designer:
Lynley Saunders
Lighting Designer:
AJ Guban
Scott Suchmann

A Message From Alison

Kamala Sankaram and Jerre Dye’s beautiful new opera Taking Up Serpents immerses the viewer in the rites and rituals of Pentecostal serpent handlers in order to tell a timely story about faith and family.

Using a few bold gestures, the design team and I established the story in a very specific time and place (a the neon-lit Sav Mart parking lot). We then used that space as a theatrical arena to represent Kayla’s mind, transitioning quickly from scene to scene and often juxtaposing two or more realities in an instant.

As a victim of trauma, Kayla has difficulty integrating memories and experiences. Rather, these vignettes crystalize in her mind, and she relives them in vivid detail.


  • REVIEW:"Haunting new opera about Pentecostal snake handlers" (DC Theatre Scene)
  • REVIEW:"Sankaram’s “Taking up Serpents” shows original, intriguing voice in WNO premiere" (Washington Classical Review)
  • REVIEW:"‘Taking Up Serpents’ and ‘Dear Erich’ Reviews: Operas Haunted by the Past" (Wall Street Journal)
  • REVIEW:"World Premiere One-Hour Opera TAKING UP SERPENTS at The Kennedy Center" (Broadway World)

Production Photos

  • A scene from a live stage production of Taking Up Serpents, directed by Alison Moritz.
  • A scene from a live stage production of Taking Up Serpents, directed by Alison Moritz.
  • A scene from a live stage production of Taking Up Serpents, directed by Alison Moritz.