Saturday, June 8, 2019

[9] Laura Kaminsky's "As One" at Merkin Hall @ Kaufman Center | #1Summer50Concerts

The full credits list
WHO: Briana Elyse Hunter, mezzo-soprano (Hannah After); Jorell Williams, baritone (Hannah Before)
WHAT: As One, by Laura Kaminsky
WHERE: Merkin Hall at the Kaufman Music Center
WHEN: June 4, 2019, 8:00pm

This is going to be a hard one to write. And I think I just need to get something off my chest real quick: I am not here to provide an evaluation of the subject matter expressed in this opera. I will be doing my best to evaluate the work objectively as an art form. This opera concerns itself with struggles that I am not qualified to comment on, and the last thing I want or intend to do is invalidate those struggles and the people who have endured them. I am not commenting on the message this opera conveys (I happen to agree with that message wholeheartedly); I am commenting on how the message is conveyed.

I was super excited when I heard about As One. The concept was fabulous, in my opinion: using two singers to chronicle a trans woman's struggle and eventual transition. I really truly think that music and text together are more powerful than either one in isolation.

The performances, by baritone Jorell Williams and mezzo Brianna Elyse Hunter, were fabulous. Williams's sheepish, yet confident acting (backed up by one hell of a voice) conveyed the internal struggle that the opera meant to convey. Hunter's intrepid final scene showed a newfound, in-plain-sight joie de vivre.

I really quite enjoyed the music of this opera as well. It was sort of a mishmash of American classical music: the pointed repetition of Reich and Glass, the ninth chords of Whitacre, the plaintive solo lines of Barber. The quartet that played the score was accurate, expressive, and always sensitive to the vocalists on stage. The set design, while minimal, was exactly as much as was needed.

The place where I feel like this opera fell flat was in the libretto. The opera was structured as a series of vignettes, and it seemed like at times the libretto did not connect one scene to the next. For instance, when Hannah decides she needs to get away from the society she knows, she decides to go to Norway; rather than showing a thought process, she just kind of sings, "Norway!" and then...she's there? A little bit discontinuous, in my opinion. Also, the libretto seemed to be very cookie-cutter -- I think about half of the sentences started with "I feel," especially towards the end of the opera. I think that the characters would have had more dimension if the libretto explained not only what they feel, but how they feel it.

Overall, not my favorite experience. There's a recording coming out soon, I might recommend listening to that; however, I wasn't so keen on this performance. It wasn't *bad* per se, but I think it could have used some fine-tuning.

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