Taylor Raven (Hannah after) and Jorell Williams (Hannah before). Photo by Rozarii Lynch

From Seattle Opera, A Trans Person’s Path to Self-Reconciliation

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. Its two-weekend run, in Seattle Opera’s production, opened Friday, and that performance showed that composer Laura Kaminsky seems to have made every possible right choice to maximize the impact of Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed’s libretto.

The opera—one act, 90 minutes—was premiered in 2014 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It calls on two singers to portray twin aspects of a single protagonist: baritone Jorell Williams as “Hannah before” and mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven as “Hannah after.” The libretto is built of 15 separate musical numbers, snapshots of Hannah’s path from grade school to young adulthood, from discovery and questioning through confusion and shame to clarity and acceptance. Nearly all these numbers use both voices, imaginatively deployed in various ways: solos for each singer; duets in counterpoint, in dialogue, and (most movingly) in unison; heard both onstage and off.

Kaminsky’s skillful and sensitive word-setting shares credit with the singers’ diction for a really unprecedented level, in my operagoing experience, of intelligibility—somewhere around 95 percent of what was sung, I understood. (Printed librettos are provided, but you won’t need one.) Most of it is declamatory, one note per syllable, but Kaminsky lets the vocal lines break into melisma (several notes per syllable) in moments of joy or epiphany—a device that’s remained ever-potent as a signifier of expanded emotion in the centuries since its invention. Kaminsky chose a string quartet (here the Saint Helens String Quartet) as her mini-orchestra, giving it music that balances support of the vocal lines with intrinsic interest of its own. Much of the music is slow and reflective—naturally, given a libretto that’s all reminiscence—eased with episodes of Reich-like, strongly pulsed propulsion.

Similarly, the somberness of the libretto, drawing on extremes of pathos (in yuletide conversations between Hannah before and his unseen mother that reverberate with what’s unsaid) and horror (the recitation of the names of victims of anti-trans violence), is leavened with a good amount of wit. The staging here is minimal, just chairs and two movable door frames on wheels, but the opera could easily accept a more elaborate full staging, or none at all—presented as an evening-length song cycle with two singers and two music stands. If a piano reduction has been made of the string-quartet score, the piece may not even need a conductor (for this run, it’s John Keene).

In short, As One, both inspiring and groundbreaking, innovative yet relatable, is built to travel, and deserves to. It’s also a gift: to college music departments hungry for work that doesn’t require expensive staging but that offers juicy roles to young singers who want to stretch both musically and dramatically, and 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. This latest in Seattle Opera’s presentation of contemporary chamber operas (following Jack Perla’s An American Dream from 2015 and Eric Banks’ myth-based Our Earth cycle of operas for families) continues, thrillingly, its commitment to move forward—to not merely show off the operatic repertory, but to add to it. As One, Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave., seattleopera.org. $25–$40. 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 17–Sat., Nov. 19.

gborchert@seattleweekly.com

More in Arts & Culture

Screenshot from paradisofestival.com.
Paradiso Festival is on the rocks following lawsuit

Paradiso Festival, one of the most popular annual EDM events in Washington… Continue reading

Photo by Haley Ausbun. Kim Shepard (left) and Carolyn Ossorio (right) launched a new true crime podcast, recorded at a sleek studio in Coal Creek. Ossorio is a former Renton Reporter columnist and both hosts previously worked at KIRO radio.
They wanted to tell true-crime stories, so they started a podcast

“Scene of the Crime” begins its first season in Renton

Cast trailers for “Three Busy Debras” filming at the Snoqualmie YMCA parking lot on Sept. 4. Madison Miller / staff photo
New TV show filming in Snoqualmie

“Three Busy Debras” is being filmed in cities in the Seattle area, including Snoqualmie.

Tyler, The Creator performs during Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 in Seattle, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Gallery: Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival 2019

Scenes from Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival at the Seattle Center.

Acquisition gift chosen from 2018 Seattle Art Fair. Installation view of Recent Acquisitions: Toyin Ojih Odutola, Frye Art Museum, 2019. Photo: Jueqian Fang.
Seattle Art Fair renews partnership with Frye Art Museum

The Seattle Art Fair, presented by AIG, is pleased to announce the… Continue reading

Bread Face. Courtesy of the artist @breadfaceblog.
Seattle Art Fair returns Aug. 1

The Seattle Art Fair, presented by AIG, is proud to announce the… Continue reading

Linda Hodges Gallery in Pioneer Square. Photo courtesy Linda Hodges Gallery
Despite Construction, Pioneer Square’s Art Galleries Remain Strong

Long a hub for Seattle’s visual arts scene, the neighborhood gets an new space this spring with the opening of ARTS at King Street Station.

Patty Gone offers an artistic toast to Danielle Steel. Photo courtesy Mount Analogue
Patty Gone’s Queer Romance Novel Reflections

The artist’s upcoming residency at Mount Analogue explores the cultural impact of pulpy romantic fantasy.

Photo by Spencer Baker 
                                Mark Haim’s torso will be guided by his friends’ movements in Parts to a Sum.
Crowdsourced Choreography

Mark Haim’s ‘Parts to a Sum’ exemplifies how choreographers are relinquishing control in the name of collaboration.

Seeing the Seattle Opera’s <em>The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs</em> counts as screen time. Photo by Philip Newton
The Innovative Tech Disconnect of ‘The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs’

Like the technology Jobs pioneered, the Seattle Opera production is flashy but lacking in soul.

Seattle Asian American Film Festival 2019 Picks

Make the most of the cultural cinematic event with these four selections.