Prizm News / July 30, 2018 / By Daniel Myers
Cincinnati Opera’s production of the transgender story offers a powerful message.
By Daniel Myers
Sparse, brutal, humorous, honest and, above all, human, “As One” celebrates a universal journey where only the details are specific. Laura Kaminsky’s chamber opera opens with a dark stage backlit by a patchwork screen with what could be a river basking in prismatic light and a stage cluttered with blue chairs haphazardly arranged.
The imagery is an obvious and fitting introduction to the story that is about to unfold in the Cincinnati Opera production.
The entire production is a monologue delivered by Hannah, who is manifested simultaneously in her “before” and “after” personas (played empathetically and beautifully by baritone Matthew Worth and mezzo soprano Amber Fasquelle, respectively).
Hannah Before introduces herself in a beautiful baritone, recalling her childhood where she felt excruciating pressure to be the perfect boy. She recalls her paper route and how on occasion she would rise before anyone else in her house, don a stolen blouse and deliver newspapers with socks stuffed into a bra. Hannah harmonizes with herself for the first time when she recalls how right it felt, insistent that the papers still got delivered, so what’s the harm?
As she brings that point to the attention of the audience, it becomes apparent that “As One” is a production rich in attention to detail.
The story evolves into Hannah Before’s quest for self-preservation against Hannah After’s identity founded on self-love. The conflict is exclusively internal, and one wonders what motive Hannah Before has for rejecting the nurturing beckoning of Hannah After. Hannah Before reveals that all she thinks she wants is to be “the perfect boy” so that no one will notice who she really is, including herself.
Eventually Hannah finds herself in the Lewis and Clark Library (named for explorers) and discovers the magic word on a yellowed reference card. Somewhere between “Transatlantic Travel” and “Transvaal War,” Hannah finds a word that legitimizes what she has been grappling with, and the audience is pulverized with a profound sense of hope as Hannah realizes that “there are others.” She isn’t alone, which may just be one of the clearest messages of the entire opera.
As Hannah begins her transition journey, she works to clear the metaphorically gendered furniture from the stage; Furniture that has been useless and limited up until that point. The roles also begin to reverse, as Hannah After is finally given room to breathe and finds herself confronted with the fear that comes with change, authenticity and self-honesty.
Hannah Before finally rises to the occasion and begins to offer comfort to Hannah After as it becomes apparent that both personas are sacred, beautiful and true. Both equal representations of who Hannah is as a whole person.
In perhaps the most frightening and poignant scene of all, Hannah After recounts an attack in a parking lot when her assailant demands to know “what the fuck” she is. Hannah Before paces frantically behind her, reading the names and methods of execution of Trans folk from around the world, all murdered simply for being among the “others” who gave Hannah so much hope only moments before.
“As One” is a powerful reminder that our transgender neighbors are not vanguards of a brave new human experience. Those whose gender identities fall outside what tradition expects are on the same universal journey as any other person, where only the details are specific.
Whatever journey you find yourself on, bring it with you. Whatever baggage you may have packed, it’s valid, and can be worked through.
There is only one performance of “As One” left: tonight, Monday, July 30th, at 7:30 p.m., in Wilks Studio in the Cincinnati Music Hall.
Tickets are available at cincinnatiopera.org.
If you need to get up early to get there, go. If you need to sneak a stolen blouse under your jacket to get there, go. The papers will still get delivered.
Daniel Myers is a writer, lyricist, musician and father of two in Columbus. His recent works focus on rock and roll history, entertainment and the arts.