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

October 23, 2015
As One Luis Alejandro Orozco Ashley Cutright by C. Stanely Photography 1

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…”

As One Luis Alejandro Orozco Ashley Cutright by C. Stanely Photography 2

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


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


AOP Makes the NYTimes “Best Of” list for the 2nd Year in a Row with OUT COLD

December 17, 2012

Theo Bleckmann and ACME. Photo: Rahav Segev

“Out Cold” continues to gather great reviews and is now showing up on some best of the year lists!

The New York Times‘s Vivien Schweitzer named Out Cold one of six “performances that have stuck with me through the year” :

“…the vocalist Theo Bleckmann offered a vivid portrayal of the lovelorn protagonist of “Out Cold,” Phil Kline’s alluring new monodrama, which received its premiere there in October with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. Mr. Bleckmann proved equally arresting in an arrangement of Mr. Kline’s “Zippo Songs.” FULL ARTICLE

Out Cold was also one of the top five best of 2012 in WQXR‘s year-end round up:

“In the BAM world premiere of Kline’s Schubert-meets-Sinatra song cycle, Bleckmann conjured Buster Keaton’s melancholy and Fred Astaire’s grace, transforming a black-box theater with a few café tables into a world as vast as a lover’s hopes and as stifling as regret. Directed by Emma Griffin and backed by the splendid American Contemporary Music Ensemble, he sang with sweetness, clarity, and self-lacerating woe. His performance of Kline’s Zippo Songs, a post-modern classic, was no less shattering. DVD, please, and soon.” FULL ARTICLE

And The Brooklyn Rail weighed in by choosing us as one of the best in this year’s BAM NextWave Festival:

“…a wonderful evening of music from Phil Kline with singer Theo Bleckmann, Kline’s great “Three Rumsfeld Songs” and “Zippo Songs” and a new set, “Out Cold,” all either written or orchestrated for ACME, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. From the moment Bleckmann, in a suit, stood on top of a television and sang, “As we know, there are known knowns,” the whole performance, with smart staging from Emma Griffin, was as gripping and entertaining as a thriller. Kline’s music and original lyrics for “Out Cold” combine the aesthetic profundity of the art song with the succinct clarity of pop music, and the social and political message is more powerful for his light touch.” FULL ARTICLE

For a complete list of reviews for our Out Cold/Zippo Songs performance at BAM this past October, visit the OUT COLD page on the AOP website.


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