"Opera has come a long way, baby" with the D.C. premiere of AS ONE
"The opening scene of the opera As One, produced by UrbanArias, beautifully establishes a work that is both universal and timely in its experience and a metaphor for the fluidity of identity of a male and female in one body." Susan Galbraith writes in her review for DC Theater Scene.
As One, a monodrama for two singers, illustrates the struggle of the transgender protagonist Hannah as she battles with the mismatch of how she feels and how her body appears. Composer Laura Kaminsky, librettists Mark Campbell and filmmaker-librettist Kimberly Reed created an opera which delves deep into ones definition of self with great simplicity in production and instrumentation. As One was developed and produced by American Opera Projects who have also been instrumental in getting As One performed in California and D.C. UrbanArias held performances of As One on October 3, 4, 9 and 10 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington DC. The production was led by director Octavio Cardenas, and conductor and head of UrbanArias, Robert Wood.
Anne Midgette, reviewer for Washington Post, praised the production's subject matter "...a thoughtful and substantial piece as well as that rarest of operatic commodities - a story that lends itself to dramatization in music." The DC Theater Scene review, written by Susan Galbraith, states "The complexity of human experience is powerfully evoked in a way only opera can with the dense layering of music, words, stage pictures, and, in this case, film." Galbraith was also enamored with the production writing "The set design by Adam Crinson was quite beautiful and used the Sprenger space .... to great advantage." DC Metro Theater Arts reviewer John Stolthberg commends the production, writing "its simplicity - 4 musicians, two singers - was for me a source of its success as theater" while Susan Galbraith wrote As One "...reveled in giving voice to shared human experiences..."
Reviews agreed Kaminsky's music painted the text and Hannah's internal emotions. Anne Midgette compliments Kaminsky's text setting saying she "...writes well for the voice, and the diction was exemplary, so you didn't miss a word." Stolthberg remarks on how the vocal line helps remove the usual gender binary in vocal music, "As One models...a multi-octave aural word within which ones pitch when one sings...need have no either/or, it need have only the glory of song." The DC Metro Theater Arts review goes on to describe the vocal lines as "...a singular self whose lyrical introspections, contrapuntal exchanges, inter-knit vocal lines, and overlapping ranges become a pulsing metaphor for the multidimensional universe of human sexedness." and reflects on "...rare moments when they [Hannah Before and Hannah After] sing exactly [the] same note - literally as one - effect is sublime."
In addition to great vocal writing, Midgette notices how Laura Kaminsky's orchestral writing reflects Hannah's journey, "...Kaminsky's effective, direct music - evoking now fiddling and Americana; now, through halting dissonances, the pain of a difficult place in the rod; now, thro ugh the juxtaposition of plucked violin and singing cello, the exploration of two voices merging into a single identity."
The opera clearly benefited from the wonderful performances by Luis Alejandro Orozco (Hannah Before) and Ashley Cutright (Hannah After). Stothberg praises them in his review saying they "Orozco and Cutright play...the very same self, learning to love themself, and they do so with such exquisite subtlety that I was blown away." Galbraith was also struck with the singers "Both singers possess powerful voices and sing and move with extraordinary expression and poetic interactions...these two performers might well have been taken as dancers in their fluidity. they are endlessly watchable..."
It is a rare production which contains model composition, direction, and beautiful acting and singing. Galbraith finishers her review "As One charters new territory in theme and content of 'what makes an opera'. It is a fascinating and promising chamber work and deserves serious attention."
Read more about the opera at AOP's As One page.