“Inspiring and groundbreaking” AS ONE heads toward record number of productions

November 18, 2016
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The Seattle Times called longtime AOP baritone Jorell Williams and mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven “passionate, powerful performers” in Seattle Opera’s new production.

Seattle Opera opened their run of As One last Friday in the iconic Washington Hall and the glowing reviews followed immediately after continuing a string of positive attention on the hit chamber opera by composer Laura Kaminsky and librettists Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed that was commissioned and premiered by American Opera Projects. As One depicts the experiences of its sole transgender protagonist, Hannah, as she endeavors to resolve the discord between her Self and the outside world.

“No opera, to my knowledge, has told the story of a trans person as either a central or subsidiary character, but novelty alone wouldn’t be enough to carry As One had not that story been framed with such expert and thoughtful craft.” – Gavin Borchert of Seattle Weekly

Gavin Borchert of Seattle Weekly calls As One “a gift… to opera companies hoping to reach untapped audiences who may be more drawn by an examination of here-and-now issues than by vengeful gods or scheming soubrettes” and its immense popularity backs up that statement.

In a time where it is rare for a new opera to ever get a second production, Seattle Opera’s As One is the sixth production of the opera including AOP’s 2014 world premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Three new productions have already been announced for 2017 at Pittsburgh Opera, Opera Colorado, and Long Beach Opera. (And we’ll have more to tell you about very soon!) According to the national service organization OPERA America, by the end of 2017, As One will have received more new productions in the three years since its premiere than any other contemporary American opera.

“The opera’s success is due in part to the talent at the heart of the playbill,” posits Rich Smith of Seattle publication The Stranger. “Another part of the show’s success might be due to its portability.”

Smith made the painful, but honest, assessment that As One is “an evening of heart-rending/heart-lifting opera that will make you think you actually like opera.”

Longtime AOP baritone Jorell Williams (Hannah before) and mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven (Hannah after) comprised As One’s first-ever African-American cast in Seattle Opera’s production. Melinda Bargreen of the Seattle Times called them “passionate, powerful performers” and stated, “Laura Kaminsky’s mainly minimalist score, performed brilliantly by the Saint Helens String Quartet, chugs busily along, with some beautiful lyrical moments.”

“The 2014 chamber opera “As One” has a power all its own. It is the power of intimate revelation, a close encounter in a small gem of a hall where the two singing actors are so near that they can almost touch the audience. And they do touch the audience — with the emotional impact of an affecting story about a child born into the wrong body. …the finale is as uplifting as any operatic ending could be.” – Melinda Bargreen of the Seattle Times

Gavin Borchert of Seattle Weekly says, “composer Laura Kaminsky seems to have made every possible right choice to maximize the impact of Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed’s libretto” which he praised for its somberness, pathos, horror, and wit.

As One, both inspiring and groundbreaking, innovative yet relatable, is built to travel, and deserves to.” – Gavin Borchert of Seattle Weekly

The final Seattle Opera performance will be held this Saturday. At least for now, we hope.

“Don’t miss it.” – City Arts Online (Seattle)

 

Press Clippings for Seattle Opera production of AS ONE:

November 16, 2016 – SEATTLE WEEKLY
Opera profile: “From Seattle Opera, A Trans Person’s Path to Self-Reconciliation”

November 14, 2016 – CITY ARTS ONLINE (SEATTLE)
Opera review: “Seattle Opera’s ‘As One'”

November 12, 2016 – THE SEATTLE TIMES
Opera profile: “‘As One’ tells a transgender story with power, passion”

November 11, 2016 – THE STRANGER (SEATTLE)
Opera profile: “As One Transcends the Trump Blues”

November 7, 2016 – KUOW 94.9 FM (SEATTLE)
Opera profile: “Introducing trans identity to the Seattle Opera”


“Powerful”, “engrossing” Paradise Interrupted garners raves at Lincoln Center Festival

August 5, 2016

The AOP-developed opera Paradise Interrupted wowed audience and press during its New York City premiere at the Lincoln Center Festival in July. at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC this past week. Drawing inspiration from the legend of Adam and Eve, as well as the Chinese story of The Peony Pavilion, Paradise Interrupted combines strong visual and aural effects, to tell the moving story of a woman’s journey towards self-realization. Combining composer Huang Ruo (Dr. Sun Yat-sen), visual artist Jennifer Wen Ma (opening and closing ceremonies of Olympics Beijing 2008), and singer Qian Yi (Peony Pavilion), this riveting production has critics raving about a new genre of opera: installation opera.

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“Paradise Interrupted,” with, from left, Yi Li, Qian Yi and Joo Won Kang, at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College. Credit: Stephanie Berger for The New York Times

 

Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times praised the production, calling it “”powerful… engrossing…. [Qian Yi] was superb.” He gave particular praise to Huang Ruo’s “integrated, richly detailed score” stating that opera was “so alluring and powerful due largely to the inventive and personal music of its composer, Huang Ruo.”

Alina Cohen at The New York Observer found Paradise Interrupted “”a thrill to watch … a living, vivid variation of one of humanity’s oldest stories … infuses an old form with contemporary ideas and technology” while WQXR’s Operavore said, “[Huang Ruo is] a thrillingly inventive composer … [Jennifer Wen Ma’s production] fit the libretto’s parable beautifully … Qian Yi [is] a charismatic marvel.”

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The Chinese singer Qian Yi in “Paradise Interrupted,” directed and designed by Jennifer Wen Ma, composed by Huang Ruo and presented as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Credit: Stephanie Berger for The New York Times

The New York Classical Review called the work “dreamily poetic … part of what makes Paradise Interrupted so compelling is the ways in which it surprises … powerfully communicative thanks to its superb realization, beginning with the score. Huang Ruo’s writing…lands with dramatic force, powered by the depth of its imagination … Qian Yi[‘s] gestures, presence, and characterization were mesmerizing.”

“Mesmerizing, Tantalizing,” raved Broadway World. “Shows off the composer at his most alluring … Designer Ma’s physical vision was stunning … Qian Yi [is] totally enthralling in every part of her performance.”

Paradise Interrupted had its world premiere in 2014 at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC. The production is scheduled to travel to Singapore in August, and then to Taiwan.


“Magic” chamber dance opera Hagoromo premieres in sold-out run at BAM

November 19, 2015
Hagoromo world premiere

Photo by Mark Stephen Kornbluth for AOP.

American Opera Project’s high-profile production Hagoromo combined dazzling new-opera, dance, puppetry, and fashion, for its sold-out World Premiere run this November at the BAM Harvey Theatre as part of BAM’s 2015 Next Wave Festival. In this dance-opera, an angel’s cloak falls to earth where a fisherman claims it. The angel performs her heavenly dance to reclaim her cloak and return to the heavens.

The multi-genre collaboration began after flutist Claire Chase, director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) which appeared in Hagoromo, asked David Michalek to choreograph her solo recital.  “Then she suggested that they try something bigger. The germ of an idea was born,” Marina Harss explained in The New York Times. The music for Hagoromo was composed by ICE member Nathan Davis, with a libretto by Brendan Pelsue, commissioned by AOP. The vocalists for the new-opera were Katalin Karolyi, singing for the angel, and Peter Tantsits, who was the voice of the fisherman. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus was also featured in the ensemble, aiding plot development and commentary.

Apollinaire Scherr commended David Michalek‘s work in the Financial Times writing he “…has seamlessly integrated the worlds of experimental music, dance, theatre, opera, puppetry and fashion into a rich, sober whole.” David Michalek, known for his beautiful film work, bravely made his directing debut with the multi-genre Hagoromo, in collaboration with Bessie-award winning choreographer David Neumann.

Two of their performers were prior New York City ballet stars Wendy Whelan, and Jock Soto. Christina Pandolfi for Broadway World hailed Hagoromo “[A] multi-medium artistic portrait” which demonstrated “the sheer excellence of Whelan and Soto’s capacity for movement.”  Wendy Whelan‘s final heavenly dance cast a spell on the audience, with Alastair Macaulay with The New York Times elating “[Whelan] tips her torso strangely sideways, opens her palms quietly to the audience, or turns her head to regard Mr. Soto, we feel her magic.”

Wendy dancing

Photograph by Ioulex for The New Yorker

Two stars making their debut on the BAM Harvey Stage were the puppets which accompanied Wendy Whelan‘s final, spell-binding, dance. They seemed almost human to Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn who wrote a review for Bachtrack. “The puppets “seemed to carry something essential of [Whelan’s] spirit when they moved with her synchronously. The power of those two puppets was such that I quickly forgot about the three black-clad and veiled operators that were required to make each of them dance.”

Arts Journal‘s Deborah Jowitt praised the creative team that “have together created moments of considerable beauty and imagination” including the “wonderfully effective” puppeteers and the “impressive” music of Nathan Davis that carried the dance of the “sensual” Soto and Whelan who “enters as smoothly as quiet water, extending one long leg and beautifully arched foot in a way that recalls Balanchine’s wish that a dancer should make her legs as flexible as an elephant’s trunk.”

“The results of this unusual collaboration were visually arresting, musically adventurous, dramatically taut, and choreographically appealing,” exclaimed Alexandra Ivanoff for the international news outlet Today’s Zaman. “Michalek’s clever use of stylistic features borrowed from the Noh theatre tradition matched up with Davis’ imaginative and programmatic palette of live sounds, both accompanimental and soloistic, generated the tricky energy flow needed to animate an essentially slow-motion visual life.” Ivanoff went on to praise soloists Tantsits and Karolyi who “employed their freakishly wide vocal ranges with both power and supreme subtlety throughout. The 20 girls of the youth chorus were astounding in their execution of a difficult score.”

Whelan and Soto dance in costumes by Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten. Photo by Mark Stephen Kornbluth for AOP.

Whelan and Soto dance in costumes by Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten. Photo by Mark Stephen Kornbluth for AOP.

Although the costumes were relatively simple, it was important that the angel’s cloak be as beautiful as possible. Vogue writer Kate Guadagnino observed “Naturally, a work whose plot hinges on an article of clothing also required an adept costume designer, and Michalek asked none other than Dries Van Noten.” The cloak was indeed heavenly. The gold, transparent, reflective material was all at once powerful, and luxurious.

Just as the fisherman gets a glimpse of heaven, so is the audience touched by an ethereal production. George Grella writes for NY Classical Review, “It’s a multimedia work that eschews the commonplace of video. Everything is live: music, dance, singing, narration, and puppetry. When all the elements are working at the same, high level, Hagoromo is magic, but there are also prosaic details and stretches that keep it earth-bound.”


“Opera has come a long way, baby” with the D.C. premiere of AS ONE

October 23, 2015
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Luis Alejandro Orozco and Ashley Cutright in As One from UrbanArias (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)

“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…”

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Luis Alejandro Orozco and Ashley Cutright in As One from UrbanArias (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)

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.

Washington Post review by Anne Midgette

DC Theatre Scene review by Susan Galbraith

DC Metro Theater Arts review by John Stolthberg


The Wanton Sublime hailed as emotionally captivating and beautifully written

September 4, 2015

The Wanton Sublime, composed by Tarik O’Regan with a libretto by American poet Anna Rabinowitz, focuses on the character of the Virgin Mary as she grapples with the terror of being chosen for a divine purpose. Originally developed in NYC with American Opera Projects, it was just performed at the Grimeborn Festival in East London. Hai Ting Chinn was the star in this one woman opera, conducted by Andrew Griffiths, who lead the Orpheus Sinfonia, and directed by Robert Shaw. A strong, well-rounded production, The Wanton Sublime gives a new voice to a classic figure through powerful text, beautiful melodic lines, a simple production, and atypical instrumentation.

Hai-Ting Chinn in The Wanton Sublime (Grimeborn - Arcola Theatre) © Robert Workman

Hai-Ting Chinn in The Wanton Sublime (Grimeborn – Arcola Theatre)
© Robert Workman

Tim Ashley, writing for The Guardian, applauded the “…bluesy rebelliousness and Monteverdian lyricism…” of Tarik O’Regan’s music in The Wanton Sublime, citing a beautiful moment in which the Virgin Mary is torn between her fear and her faith as “…Chinn sings against a playback of her own voice singing sacred texts…”. Rupert Christiansen of The Telegraph was also impressed by O’Regan’s music, praising its unfaltering heartbeat and melody “…weaving a richly melismatic vocal line into a strikingly coloured orchestral score delicately enhanced by electronic effects. Never sterile or mechanical it seems to have a living organic pulse.”

The What’sOnStage review  by Mark Valencia complemented the music and the characterization of the Virgin Mary calling the opera “…musically rich…and also philosophically absorbing.” Valencia appreciates how Rabinowitz presents Mary as”…a strong young woman who questions, challenges and even defies the God who has slated her to be the mother of Christ.” Tim Ashley (The Guardian) also enjoyed the emotional depth of the opera, “The underlying point, integral to much mystic literature, is that divine intervention has the bewildering potential to shatter lives and identities.” Edward Bhesania’s review for The Stage compliments Rabinowitz’s and O’Regan’s creative partnership as Mary’s character “…begins with incredulity and disdain before finally reaching acceptance, by which point both music and text have attained a more sublime tone.” The EveningStandard review, written by Barry Millington, also applauds their collaboration, stating “…Rabinowitz’s text explores the nervous longings of an idealised iconic figure, complemented by Tarik O’Regan’s inventive and attractive score…”

Hai-Ting Chinn in The Wanton Sublime (Grimeborn - Arcola Theatre) © Robert Workman

Hai-Ting Chinn in The Wanton Sublime (Grimeborn – Arcola Theatre)
© Robert Workman

Valencia (What’sOnStage) also describes the minimalist staging by Robert Shaw “…commendably simple staging presents her as a power dressed young professional who changes midway through into simpler clothes that better assert her individuality. It’s a subtle transition, and beautifully judged.” Edward Bhesania (The Stage) complimented the instrumentation which “…uses a 9 piece band (including electric guitar and rums to underpin the journey of the Virgin Mary figure stripped of her iconic symbolism and grappling in today’s world of her unasked-for role.”

AOP began developing the monodrama in 2009 and co-produced its premiere at Roulette in Brooklyn in 2014. AOP had previously worked with Tarik O’Regan on his first opera Heart of Darkness and with Anna Rabinowitz on Darkling, another operatic adaptation of a book of her poetry. Darkling, music by Stefan Weisman, was commissioned and developed by AOP.


“Mesmerizing”, “marvelous” Paradise Interrupted premieres at Spoleto Festival

June 1, 2015

The AOP-developed opera Paradise Interrupted received favorable press when it premiered at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC this past  week.  Drawing inspiration from the legend of Adam and Eve, as well as the Chinese story of The Peony Pavilion, Paradise Interrupted combines strong visual and aural effects, to tell the moving story of a woman’s journey towards self-realization.  Combining composer Huang Ruo (Dr. Sun Yat-sen), visual artist Jennifer Wen Ma (opening and closing ceremonies of Olympics Beijing 2008), and singer Qian Yi (Peony Pavilion), this riveting production has critics raving about a new genre of opera: installation opera.

Paradise Interrupted picture

Adam Parker of the Charleston Post and Courier praised the production, calling it “an original work that beautifully blends Eastern and Western styles and presents five fine singers with remarkable stamina and expression.” He also states: “had there been no music at all, just the staging, this would have been a marvelous, immersive experience. But there was music, fascinating music, lyrical, often rhythmic music.”

At the Spoleto Journal, Jerry Bowles, raved about Jennifer Wen Ma’s stunning visual effects: “Set against an ever changing backdrop of abstract digital images that reflect the singer’s mood shifts, the garden that greets the audience of Paradise Interrupted is an assemblage of laser-cut paper painted with black ink that is unfolded, accordian-like, and closed up again by the performers throughout the drama. The effect is that the garden appears to move in response to the singers’ voices.”

Heidi Waleson of the Wall Street Journal says that” composer Huang Ruo and the artist Jennifer Wen Ma “have gloriously fused Western and Chinese idioms, modernity and tradition, to create a mesmerizing new work that is part opera, part dynamic art installation.”  She also compliments that”Mr. Huang’s music for The Woman takes off from the melismatic, pitch-bending, slightly nasal kunqu vocal style, and makes it even more haunting and melodic.”

At Charleston City Paper, Elizabeth Pandolfi raves that it “…is a courageous, unique, and complicated piece of theater.”  She also goes on to compliment the opera’s success in blending traditional Chinese singing and stories with Western musical elements: “The orchestra, consisting of both Western and Chinese instruments, was exceptional, and together Qian and the four male singers — she sang in the Chinese operatic style, and the men in the Western style — created a surreal, otherworldly sound that completely embodied the dream-like world the Woman was wandering through”

Read the Q&A with singer Qian Yi.

Read the profile on the complex technical design of Paradise Interrupted.

 


US premiere of Heart of Darkness has sold-out run in San Francisco

May 4, 2015

On May 2, Opera Parallèle presented the US premiere of the AOP-developed opera Heart of Darkness at San Francisco’s trendy industrial Z-space. The new production by Brian Staufenbiel featuring designs by artist Matt Kish and conducted by Nicole Paiement sold out each of its four performances.

Composed by Grammy-nominated Tarik O’Regan, using a libretto by Tom Phillips, the opera is based on the novel by Joseph Conrad, and explores the excesses and depravities of European colonialism in the African Congo. AOP, in conjuction with OperaGenesis, started developing the opera in 2006. In 2011 critics raved for the sold-out world premiere at London’s Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio.  At last it has arrived to the US and is gathering more critical acclaim:

From San Francisco Chronicle:

“the kaleidoscopic inventiveness of O’Regan’s score”

“In O’Regan’s music — dexterously conducted by Artistic Director Nicole Paiement and sung by a splendid cast — the rich feints and ambiguities of Conrad’s tale find sonorous expression. A veil of uncertainty often settles over the music, thanks to shifting instrumental textures and a harmonic palette that seems inclined to change direction at a moment’s notice, like a rising mist off the water.”

From Bachtrack:

“O’Regan’s fine music was complemented by the Opera Parallèle’s thoughtful production and a superb set of musicians under Nicole Paiement’s magical baton.” [4 out of 5 stars]

From San Francisco Classical Voice:

“[Heart of Darkness’s] brevity and eloquence, as well as the small forces it requires, make it a natural for adventurous opera companies everywhere. … O’Regan creates a continuously shifting musical tapestry and many gorgeous effects. His orchestration is exceptionally beautiful [and] consistently inventive.”

From San Jose Mercury News:

“[Composer Tarik O’Regan], often compared to Benjamin Britten, employs a beguiling neo-tonal palette, and this score offered plenty of evidence of his skill at writing for orchestra.”

Shawnette Sulker and Philip Skinner in Opera Parallèle’s U.S. premiere of Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness at Z Space. Photo: Steve DiBartolomeo

Listen to composer Tarik O’Regan on San Francisco public radio discuss the opera’s new production and the importance of AOP’s development process. (Interview begins at 6:00.)


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