Critics speak “As One” in praise of latest AOP opera

September 19, 2014

“As One is everything that we hope for in contemporary opera: topical, poignant, daring, and beautifully written.”
New York Classical Review

Kelly Markgraf and Sasha Cooke in "As One"

Kelly Markgraf and Sasha Cooke in “As One”. Photo by Ken Cazan.

On September 7, AOP’s opera “As One” completed a sold-out three-performance run at BAM’s Fishman Theater and the critical response has been overwhelmingly positive with declaring it “a piece that haunts and challenges” (Opera News), “artistically distinguished, socially important” (WQXR), that “satisfies in an entertaining and delicately moving way” (NY Observer). In the chamber opera by composer Laura Kaminsky, librettist Mark Campbell and librettist/filmmaker Kimberly Reed, a mezzo-soprano (Sasha Cooke) and a baritone (Kelly Markgraf) depict the experiences of its sole transgender protagonist, Hannah, as she endeavors to resolve the discord between her self and the outside world. The work featured performances by The Fry Street Quartet, stage direction by Ken Cazan, and music direction by Steven Osgood. Here is a sampling of the praise it received:

From New York Classical Review:

“American Opera Projects has produced a number of significant new pieces in its twenty-five-plus years, and the company’s latest does not disappoint.”

“As One is a remarkable piece, dealing with difficult and sensitive subject matter (even in a progressive city like New York, the topic of gender dysphoria still feels somewhat taboo) but showing not a hint of animus. There is no preaching here, only honest, earnest depiction of an experience. Obviously, the idea of gender identity is central to the work, but this is not a piece about gender identity, per se. It is rather a piece about a human being, Hannah, and her journey, her doubt, her fear, and eventually her joy.”

“The piece itself is formidable on all fronts, starting with an unassuming but nonetheless powerful libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed.”

“[Laura Kaminsky’s] remarkable score always seems to be in perfect harmony with the libretto.”

From Out.com:

AS ONE photo 1 by Ken Howard for AOP“The brilliance of As One is that the drama is (mostly) internal. With only one character, Hannah, that choice allows for a complex and nuanced portrayal of the coming out experience on stage.”

“The simplicity of their (Reed and Campbell’s) language gives the opera a stream-of-consciousness ease and accessibility. Voice is often a signifier of gender but the opera’s creators potently play with it here as a more symbolic marker of identity.”

“Composer Laura Kaminsky, who first conceived of the project (her first opera), has created a musical world that captures both the discordance of Hannah’s struggle and her growth toward personal harmony. Moments of playfulness, innocence and discovery…are tempered by moments of fear and loneliness. Kaminsky swirls all of these experiences together in layers of competing sounds and rhythms, revealing a complex emotional portrait of Hannah’s inner world.”

“The success and beauty of As One is that it reveals epic emotions within an intimate frame.”

From Opera News:

“The draw of As One, which has a libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed, lies in its very human depiction of the internal and external issues faced by transgender individuals in the twenty-first century…(it is) a piece that haunts and challenges its audience with questions about identity, authenticity, compassion and the human desire for self-love and peace.”

“Ken Cazan’s production had the singers and the players of the Fry Street Quartet co-exist and interact in the same space, creating a world that was as fantastical and dreamlike as it was gritty and real.”

“Together (Kelly) Markgraf and (Sasha) Cooke—who are husband and wife in real life—created one character with their fully committed physical and emotional connection.”

AS ONE photo 5 by Ken Howard for AOP“Leading with eloquence and focus was Steven Osgood, a champion of modern American opera…Osgood maintained the delicate balance with ease and an ear for the musical and dramatic arc of this compelling journey.”

From David Patrick Stearns/WQXR:

“Artistically distinguished, socially important…says so much with relatively modest means.”

“In a subject with so many ways to go wrong, composer Laura Kaminsky and co-librettists Mark Campbell (best known for Silent Night) and Kimberly Reed (once a star quarterback in Montana but now a female filmmaker) elegantly zeroed in on pivotal moments in the inner life of a single character named Hannah.”

“Musically, Kaminsky’s dramatically charged music has a tonal ambiguity that allows each scene to go where it needs to, and in a clear dramatic trajectory.”

“Baritone Kelly Markgraf sang with a robust, full-bodied voice that drove home the exterior/interior contrast of being masculine on the outside but moving in more feminine ways in unguarded moments. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke had some of the opera’s more ecstatic writing, since the feminine part of Hannah’s life has the greatest discoveries. Both singers, who happen to be husband and wife, sang with beauty, intelligence and superb English diction.”

“Stage director Ken Cazan maintained Brechtian dislocation by keeping the accompanying Fry Street Quartet in the center of the stage. The lack of comprehensive realism in the stage pictures let you stand outside the story and take it in more objectively to more fully process the events at hand.”

From James Jorden/The New York Observer:

“…satisfies in an entertaining and delicately moving way…”

“Mr. Campbell and Ms. Reed’s text is wonderfully tactful, never reaching for grandiose effects.”

“(Ms. Kaminsky’s) setting of text is masterful, so natural and unaffected that the projected titles were superfluous.”

AS ONE photo 2 by Ken Howard for AOP“This world premiere boasted a cast as close to perfection as I can imagine…Ken Cazan staged the piece with subtlety and tact. Ms. Reed directed film segments that were projected around and someone (sic) on the action, starting in faded black and white and gradually blooming into rich color for the “Norway” finale. David Martin Jacques’ intricate lighting design added visual interest…and Sara Jean Tosetti’s costumes, simple hoodies and jeans, posed intriguing questions about the nature of masculinity.”

From [Q]onstage:

“MAGNIFICENT. Our story was made on September 4 at BAM Fisher in the Fishman Space. Composer Laura Kaminsky’s latest work, “As One” stole an entire house full of hearts. A spare stage and few props placed the focus firmly on the music, right where it should be. (Mark) Campbell and (Kimberly) Reed’s libretto has humor, pathos and that most elusive of qualities—true emotion.”

“The multi-media film is projected on translucent material of various sizes and heights, hung in the back of the room. The diaphanous presence of images seemed like thought made flesh.”

“Baritone Kelly Markgraf plays “Hannah before” with gentility, great thoughtfulness and presence, while mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke plays “Hannah after,” as dazzling with character as with the beauty of her voice….this work requires a very particular set of mad skills—these are brilliant singers and accomplished actors both. When they sing together, they are limerance.”

“The Fry Quartet transcend their music.”

From The New York Times:

“Ms. Kaminsky has sensitive collaborators in Mark Campbell, who wrote the libretto for Kevin Puts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Silent Night,” and Kimberly Reed, whose documentary, “Prodigal Sons,” traces her own transgender life.”

“The baritone Kelly Markraf sings “Hannah before” with power and clarity. With knowing wit and vocal lushness, the mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke plays “Hannah after.”

“In Ken Cazan’s sparse staging, backed by scene-setting projections from Ms. Reed, the drama powerfully coheres.”

From Parterre Box:

“Kaminsky knows how to write for the voice, permitting beautiful voices to demonstrate their beauties, hitting emotional chords.”

AS ONE photo 4 by Ken Howard for AOP

From the Wall Street Journal:

“The double casting ingeniously sets out the male/female bifurcation of personality, and the two singers, with their matched vocal timbres and expressivity, make it believable. So does Ken Cazan’s choreographed direction.”

From Voce di meche:

“(As One) held our interest from start to finish—words such as TRANScendent and TRANSformation kept popping into our brain…If you are fortunate enough to get a ticket, don’t be surprised if you walk out TRANSformed.”

“(Although) Mr. Markgraf’s physical and forceful baritone are completely masculine, his skillful interpretation allowed us to realize the woman within. Ms. Cooke’s gleaming mezzo and soft appearance was tinged at appropriate moments with the called-for masculine quality as she portrayed “Hannah after.” The roles could not have been better acted or sung.”

“A remarkable feature of the work is the way the various artists were called upon to cross artistic boundaries….the singers were called upon to dance…the superb conductor Steven Osgood was called up to lay down his baton and assume the role of a schoolteacher…the members of the Fry Street Quartet not only played Ms. Kaminsky’s music with consummate artistry but also participated in the drama just a bit.”

“Stage director Ken Cazan…created the magic of having us see in our mind’s eye what was not onstage.”

“(Ms. Kaminsky’s) writing for the string quartet was nothing short of thrilling…and there were some thrilling moments when Ms. Cooke and Mr. Markgraf sang in gorgeous harmony (symbolic!) and in unison (even more symbolic!).”

Find complete As One reviews, interviews, and profiles at www.operaprojects.org/AsOne#asone_press


AMERICAN OPERA PROJECTS PREMIERES AS ONE, A CHAMBER OPERA FOR TWO VOICES

July 3, 2014

 BY LAURA KAMINSKY, KIMBERLY REED, AND MARK CAMPBELL, AT BAM FISHER, SEPTEMBER 4-7, 2014

With mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and Baritone Kelly Markgraf sharing the role of the transgender protagonist, and featuring the Fry Street quartet

 AsOne_Acosta WP image

BROOKLYN, NYAOP (American Opera Projects) announces the world premiere of As One, with music and concept by AOP’s newly-named composer in residence Laura Kaminsky, and with an original libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed. With compassion, candor, and humor, As One chronicles the experiences of a transgender person as she emerges into harmony with herself and the world around her. Performances take place at BAM Fisher (321 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, NY 11217) from September 4 and 6 at 7:30 pm, and September 7 at 3 pm. Tickets are $25 and will go on sale in mid-July at BAM.org/AsOne.

A monodrama for two voices sharing one central role, AOP commissioned the one-act chamber opera specifically for internationally-acclaimed singers (and real-life husband and wife) Kelly Markgraf, baritone, and Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano, who share the role of the protagonist. The production is directed by Ken Cazan, with music direction by Steven Osgood, and features the Utah-based Fry Street Quartet. The production design by David Jacques includes film by transgender filmmaker Kimberly Reed, director of the award-winning documentary, Prodigal Sons. Costume design is by Sara Jean Tosetti.The performance is the culmination of AOP’s participation in the BAM Professional Development Program, a professional training program led by BAM and the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center.

 

Free panel discussions with the artists will take place after the September 4 (“Creating As One,” moderator TBA) and September 7 performances (“Gender Identity in As One,” moderated by Jean Malpas, Director, Gender and Family Project at the Ackerman Institute for the Family).

 

A second production of As One will take place at the Caine School of the Arts at Utah State University in April, 2015.

 

ABOUT AS ONE:

 

For many years composer Laura Kaminsky has concerned herself with political and social issues in her music. Her compositions have included works about the natural world and environment (Rising Tide; Terra Terribilis), political and social issues (Vukovar Trio; And Trouble Came: An African AIDS Diary), and works which have been inspired by visual art concepts and artists (Cadmium Yellow, The Full Range of Blue). As a married lesbian, Kaminsky was intrigued by a 2008 article in the New York Times about the legal implications of a marriage in which one of the parties transitioned from male to female, which transformed the couple from hetero- to homo- sexual. For Kaminsky, the story also raised questions about self-identity, including what one is willing to give up in order to simply be oneself. It prompted her first ideas for a musical theater work on the topic. In 2011 Kaminsky saw Kimberly Reed’s documentary film, Prodigal Sons, the story of Reed, a transgender woman, and her return home to Montana for her high school reunion. The composer was moved by the story and was taken with Reed’s artistic sensibility; she wrote to Reed, asking for a meeting. Ms. Reed was intrigued by the concept and agreed to collaborate.

 

While Ms. Kaminksy and Ms. Reed had a concept and visuals, they had not come up with a story. That’s when they turned to librettist Mark Campbell (who is most known for writing the libretto for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, Silent Night). In their first meeting, Mr. Campbell asked Ms. Reed to relate her own experiences and, moved by her humor, bravery and compassion, began envisioning a story about the journey of a transgender person from youth to adulthood. The resultant libretto, written by both Ms. Reed and Mr. Campbell, is told in three parts and is organized into songs that were inspired by Ms. Reed’s story, the stories of other transgender people, and the themes they felt were necessary to explore.

 

As One was developed through public workshops at AOP under its First Chance program. AOP has developed and/or produced over 20 world premiere operas, many of which started within First Chance, including most recently a sold-out co-production of Lera Auerbach’s The Blind (Lincoln Center Festival 2013), Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness (Royal Opera House, London), and Gregory Spears’ Paul’s Case (UrbanArias, PROTOTYPE, Pittsburgh Opera).

 

Commissioned by American Opera Projects, As One is supported in part by funding from OPERA America’s Opera Discovery Grants for Female Composers Program, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Works, Bronx Council on the Arts, Purchase College Development Fund, Tanner Fund, Jeremy T. Smith Fund, Dr. Coco Lazaroff, Lynn Loacker, Judith O. Rubin, and many generous individuals. Special thanks to Purchase College Conservatory of Music and Utah State University. As One is presented by AOP as part of the BAM/DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center Professional Development Program (PDP).

Creators Kimberly Reed, Laura Kaminsky, and Mark Campbell (with Mila Henry in bg) at early AOP workshop of As One.

Creators Kimberly Reed, Laura Kaminsky, and Mark Campbell (with Mila Henry in bg) at early AOP workshop of As One.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS:

 

Laura Kaminsky, recently appointed Composer-in-Residence at American Opera Projects, has received commissions, fellowships, and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Opera America, and the Copland Fund, among others. She has received six ASCAP-Chamber Music America Awards for Adventuresome Programming and is the recipient of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage 2010 Chopin Award. She is on the faculty at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College/SUNY. Her music is recorded on the Albany, Mode, MSR, Innova and CRI labels.

 

Mark Campbell is one of the most in-demand librettists working in opera today. His last opera, Silent Night, which he wrote with composer Kevin Puts, received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in music. He has written nine operatic works, including Later the Same Evening, Volpone, Bastianello/Lucrezia and Rappahannock County. He is currently working on operas based on the novels The Manchurian Candidate (Minnesota Opera, 2015; composer: Kevin Puts), The Shining (Minnesota Opera, 2016, composer: Paul Moravec), The Trial of Elizabeth Cree (Opera Philadelphia, 2017; composer: Kevin Puts) and the play Dinner at Eight (Minnesota Opera 2017, composer: William Bolcom).

 

Kimberly Reed’s work has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, NPR, and in Details Magazine. Her work has made her one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film.” Kimberly Reed directed and produced Prodigal Sons, a “whiplash doc that heralds an exciting talent.” Prodigal Sons landed on many Best of the Year lists and garnered 14 Audience and Jury awards, including the International Film Critics’ FIPRESCI Prize. Ms. Reed was recognized in OUT Magazine’s “Out 100,” and as Towleroad’s “Best LGBT Character of the Film Year” in 2010.

 

Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke has been called “the luminous standout” (New York Times) and “equal parts poise, radiance and elegant directness” (Opera News). Ms. Cooke’s past season included performances with the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, among others. Additional highlights included a production of Anna Bolena at the Opéra National de Bordeaux; recitals at Wigmore Hall, Emory University, and Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. Her recordings are available on Bridge, Naxos, and Music@Menlo Live labels, as well as her solo album on Yarlung Records.

 

In addition to As One, Kelly Markgraf’s 2014-15 calendar features his debut in the role of Don Pizarro in Fidelio with Madison Opera, and the role of Heathcliff in a concert and subsequent recording of Carlisle Floyd’s Wuthering Heights with Florentine Opera. He returns to Florentine later in the season as Belcore in L’elisir d’amore, and makes his debut with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Last season brought a debut with Austin Lyric Opera, performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Green Bay Symphony, and Bach’s St. Mathew Passion with the Oratorio Society of NY at Carnegie Hall.

 

Hailed as “a triumph of ensemble playing” (New York Times), Fry Street Quartet has perfected a “blend of technical precision and scorching spontaneity” (The Strad). The ensemble began its international career in 2002 as cultural ambassadors to the Balkan States, sponsored by Carnegie Hall and the U.S. Department of State. They previously collaborated with composer Laura Kaminsky in a multi-disciplinary performance with physicist Dr. Robert Davies, called The Crossroads Project. The Fry Street Quartet holds the Endowed String Quartet Residency at the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

 

Ken Cazan is Resident Stage Director for the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. He has directed more than 100 productions for more than 40 opera companies, including the Santa Fe Opera, Atlanta Opera, Seattle Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis, Opera Omaha, Austin Lyric Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Hamilton, Portland Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and Syracuse Opera, among others. Mr. Cazan holds a B.F.A. in acting, directing, and dance from Syracuse University.

 

Steven Osgood, conductor. Notable engagements include: Xenakis’ Oresteia (world premiere, Miller Theater); Tan Dun’s Marco Polo (De Nederlands Opera), La traviata (Edmonton Opera), Tosca (Chautauqua Opera), Conrad Susa’s Transformations (Juilliard Opera). As Artistic Director of AOP from 2001 to 2008, he conducted the world premieres of Paula Kimper’s Patience and Sarah (1998 Lincoln Center Festival), and Janice Hamer’s Lost Childhood (Tel Aviv, 2007). He also created and is artistic director for the company’s nationally recognized Composers & the Voice Workshop Series, soon entering its eighth season.

 

The BAM Professional Development Program (BAM PDP) is a 9-month program that utilizes the strengths of both institutions to provide professional development training and deeply discounted theater and rehearsal studio rental to an annual selection of qualifying non-profit arts organizations. Through the program, supported by Brooklyn Community Foundation and The New York Community Trust, BAM and the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center, strive to help arts organizations expand their skill base, increase their institutional capacity, and build necessary foundations for their long-term success. The program culminates with each participating company presenting a self-funded production in the BAM Fisher’s Fishman Theater Space.

 

For more information about transgender issues please visit the GLAAD WEBSITE.


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