ASU’s Herberger Mainstage Lyric Opera Theatre presents the world premiere of Caterina’s Son, the story of Leonardo da Vinci and his mother

TEMPE, Ariz. – Today Tempe, tomorrow Broadway? Arizona State University’s Lyric Opera Theatre will be the first to perform Caterina’s Son, a new musical drama about Leonardo da Vinci, the gifted artist and illegitimate son of a peasant woman who gave him up for a better life. Written by Tak Tarbo and directed by J. Robert Wills, dean of the Herberger College of Fine Arts at ASU, Caterina’s Son premieres Nov. 21 at the Evelyn Smith Music Theatre on the ASU campus.

“Da Vinci is known around the world as the universal man and Caterina is his largely forgotten mother,” says Wills, who is juggling a busy schedule as dean to direct the musical. “It’s a wonderful story to be told and that’s what intrigued me from the beginning.”

Caterina’s Son is ultimately a story of redemption that spans Da Vinci’s life from 1452 to 1519. Set in Renaissance Italy, the Broadway-style musical features an ensemble cast of 18 that portrays nearly 60 characters. Tarbo, a Japanese auto engineer-turned-composer wrote the story, music and lyrics and hand picked ASU’s Lyric Opera Theatre to perform the work. Tarbo and Wills journeyed to the Tuscan countryside where Da Vinci was born to gain insight into his life. Da Vinci was reunited with his 65-year-old mother when he was 41 and in Milan working on The Last Supper.

“No trace of Caterina’s family has been found in the archives of the old churches in Tuscany, indicating that she belonged to a neglected class,” says Tarbo, who feels that the soul and core of Da Vinci’s genius may be attributed to his mother. “I am interested in Caterina and her position in the life of Leonardo.” Some experts think the model for Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is his birth mother Caterina. “I decided to address this unexplored aspect of Leonardo’s life and propose a new dimension to the universal intrigue of the Mona Lisa, which means also telling the story of Leonardo and Caterina.”

Not only does Caterina’s Son tell a personal story, it evokes a cinematic feel with vintage costumes used in the movie Becket with Richard Burton, and large-screen video projections of Da Vinci’s work. Lyric Opera Theatre director William Reber is musical director for Caterina’s Son, marking the first collaboration between Reber and Wills since they worked together at the University of Texas at Austin nearly 20 years ago.

WHEN:Nov. 21 and 22; Dec. 3, 5 and 6, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 23, 2 p.m.
WHERE:The Evelyn Smith Music Theatre in the ASU Music Building, 40 E. Gammage Pkwy., Tempe
TICKETS:$14 adults; $12 seniors, faculty, staff and ASU alumni; $5 students

Lyric Opera Theatre is part of the ASU Herberger Mainstage Season featuring theatre, dance and music performances. For a complete Mainstage schedule, go to

Media Contact:
Denise Tanguay