Prizm News / July 1, 2018 / By Christine Howey
The Cincinnati Opera’s production of ‘As One’ explores a transgender life. Five performances are scheduled from July 25-30.
By Christine Howey
There are so many ways a transgender person realizes they don’t fit in, and many of them happen in grade school. A couple decades ago, for instance, a boy who felt like a girl was chastised for writing his cursive exercises in a feminine style. It was a signal to him that he’d better toe the gender line, or else.
This well-reviewed work, currently the most-performed new opera in the country, was conceived and composed by the renowned, much-awarded and openly lesbian Laura Kaminsky. It has been performed by more than 20 opera companies in the United States and around the world.
The compact opera (four instrumentalists and two singers) tells the story of a fictional person named Hannah, who was born male and is embarking on a transgender journey of discovery. It is based to some degree on the actual life experiences of filmmaker Kimberly Reed, who co-authored the libretto with Mark Campbell.
Reed grew up as a young man named Paul, a high school valedictorian and star quarterback who told her story in the 2008 documentary film, “Prodigal Sons.” Many more moments are captured in the opera in a variety of different ways.
For instance, in the scene titled “Perfect Boy,” Hannah vows to do everything perfectly as a boy and a man so no one will ever know how she feels inside. And in the scene “To Know,” Hannah discovers she’s not alone when she visits a local library and finds information about the identity crisis she’s experiencing.
The opera is performed by a string quartet and voiced by two exceptional singers. The role of “Hannah Before” is sung by Matthew Worth, a baritone, while “Hannah After” is handled by mezzo-soprano Amber Fasquelle, under the baton of conductor Gene Chang and stage director Robin Guarino.
Although they are two different people, their voices merge “as one,” reflecting how Hannah finds a path to becoming the whole person she is by combining all the aspects of her identity.
As Kaminsky notes, “This opera was possible because there was a lot of trust among myself, Kimberly and Mark. We called ourselves a ‘creative ménage a trois’ because we worked so closely together in the initial conception. Then Mark and Kim created such perfect moments in Hannah’s life to illustrate her life-saving journey to self-acceptance. The opera has both humor and poignancy, and its story has touched so many audiences since its birth in 2014.”
Kaminsky, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College & Conservatory in Northeast Ohio, also had a lot of decisions to make from a musical perspective.
“In terms of the string quartet, I chose to have Hannah’s voice represented as a viola, since it is a mid-range instrument and is often used in a supporting role. In this work, the viola takes more of a star turn.”
Evans Mirageas, the artistic director of the Cincinnati Opera, says “As One” fits beautifully into the Cincinnati Opera’s mission. Its “C.O. Next” initiative is designed to bring opera to a new audience that might consider the art too stodgy or intimidating.
It will be performed in the more intimate, 200-seat Wilks Studio at Music Hall.
“While we love doing the big, classical operas, we are also focused on bringing new energy and new audiences into our fold with works such as ‘As One,’” Mirageas says.
“Experienced composers such as Laura Kaminsky, who are new to opera, are breaking down those old walls and finding fresh ways to use opera to entertain and communicate.”
Kaminsky says the process even surprised her.
“I never thought of writing an opera. But my wife and I followed and participated
in the fight for same-sex marriage. And I was struck by that struggle, and further by the challenges faced by trans folk in our society,” she says. “What are you willing to give up to be who you are? It was those kinds of thoughts that led me to Kimberly Reed, whose film, ‘Prodigal Sons,’ about her own life experience is a masterpiece. After working with Kim on the broad concept for the opera, Mark joined the team, and ultimately the story of Hannah was born.”
It’s a journey many people might want to take. The opera can also be seen in a performance sponsored by the Chautauqua Opera Company on Tuesday, Aug. 7, in Chautauqua, N.Y., just a two-hour drive from Cleveland.