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Kean University

Kean Professor’s Artwork Featured in Opera in France

Large pictures of the Ornamental Hands are used in the stage set for the opera Le Magnifique

Kean University fine arts Professor Jennifer Crupi’s unique artwork, Ornamental Hands, is playing a leading role in an opera that premiered in Reims, France in November.

The coordinator of the Fine Arts Conservatory at Kean, Crupi, who is a metalsmith, said her Ornamental Hands jewelry pieces were inspired by elegant hand gestures seen in art throughout history. The pieces are worn by the heroine in the opera Le Magnifique.

Kean professor Jennifer Crupi, a metalsmith, at work in her studio
Kean Professor Jennifer Crupi at work in her home studio.

“My works are designed to be worn and experienced, and their use in this setting is perfectly aligned with the original intent,” Crupi said. “The prop versions I created are especially appropriate, as the elegant hand gestures referenced in Ornamental Hands were inspired by historic artworks throughout the centuries—including the Baroque period from which this opera originates.”

Kean Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David S. Birdsell, Ph.D., said the use of Crupi’s art in the opera is evidence of the power and global reach of one of Kean’s artists.

“Jen Crupi's work is meticulously crafted and visually arresting; seeing the photos of her pieces at scale on the opera stage is simply breathtaking,” Birdsell said. “The inclusion of her work in this production of Le Magnifique at the Reims Opera House is a powerful testament to the quality of her work and the international visibility she has achieved, and is an example of the powerful creative work being done at Kean University.”

Artist Jen Crupi created ornamental jewelry pieces for use in an opera
Ornamental Hands

The Ornamental Hands are made of metal and consist of finger attachments, suspended from a cuff by chains, that position fingers marionette-style in a gesture. The original ornaments are sterling silver; sturdier prop versions Crupi created for the opera are a type of bronze called Nu Gold.

Stephan Grögler is the founder of OperAct Paris, an organization that produces modern interpretations of classic operas. He discovered Crupi’s work online and contacted her about collaborating on Le Magnifique. The two met in New York in 2019.

“When we met, it was clear that we were enthusiastic to work together,” Grögler said. “Ornamental Hands will reinforce the ‘Baroque’ attitude in general and illustrate a very important part of the dramaturgy of our opera: the adolescent young leading girl is prisoner of her own body, but is also kept as a prisoner by her nasty stepfather."

After being postponed twice due to the pandemic, the premiere took place at Opéra de Reims on November 25. The opera is expected to tour theaters and opera houses in Europe until at least 2024, and producers are fielding prospects for a U.S. venue. A small-scale version is being produced for schools and universities.

Crupi’s art has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, including the Smithsonian, and one piece from Ornamental Hands is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian. She said the opera is “an exciting new venue for the exposure of my work.” 

Ornamental Hands was also featured in Vogue Italia. Crupi has received other requests for photo shoots and movies, including from celebrities, but she is very selective about the use of her art.

Crupi’s latest success comes as the University is seeking designation as a R2 research institution under the Carnegie classification system.

“I am excited by the renewed focus on faculty research and creative works at Kean as we pursue R2 status. I greatly appreciate the University's support of my creative work,” she said. “I am honored that my accomplishments in turn bring recognition to the University and speak to the quality of creativity on campus.”

Her art is also motivational to students.

"Students are often excited when they discover I am an internationally exhibiting artist and that my work is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian,” she said. “It is important for faculty to inspire students through our own creative practice."

Crupi has several other upcoming exhibitions, including a solo show, Jennifer Crupi: A Gestural Journey at Joan Derryberry Art Gallery, Tennessee Tech University, January-February 2023; and a group exhibition in Germany April-September 2023, Gestures: Past, Present and Future, at the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress/State Museum in Koblenz, Germany.