For those readers who have not partaken yet of this vibrant, virtual—but not live—opera showcase, the Decameron Opera Coalition, a partnership of nine small opera companies spread across the United States are premiering in the month of October tiny operas running from 9 to 15 minutes long. The libretti are inspired from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron in a contemporary update. The connecting opera is an extended piece called The Happy Hour by composer Peter Hilliard and librettist Matt Boresi.
On October 23, 2020, the Dresser partook of the premieres of Orsa Ibernata by composer Elizabeth Blood and librettist Danny Brylow, Seven Spells with music and words by Donia Jarrar, and The Sky Where You Are by composer Maria Thompson Corley and librettist Jenny O’Connell.
From the moment composer-soprano Elizabeth Blood begins intoning “brambles and weeds” with a trilled R, the listeners know they have entered sacred space set back in time to the medieval period. Orsa Ibernata produced by Milwaukee Opera Theater of Milwaukee, WI, features Danny Brylow’s libretto culled from two Decameron stories that settle on an unfaithful partner who is served up the lover’s heart and because of this, she or he commits suicide. The title of this work translates as “Hibernating Bear.” The Dresser is clueless how the title relates to the story. Additionally, there are two characters in this work and both parts are sung by Elizabeth Blood, though the Dresser is unsure about the identities of these characters. Nonetheless, Orsa Ibernata is The Dresser’s favorite opera of these three.
Seven Spells produced by Opera in the Heights of Houston, TX involves a woman (mezzo-soprano Kaarin Cecilia Phelps) who seems to be preparing for her wedding but is notified by cell phone that she has been jilted. Maria Thompson Corley’s music is accented by rolling arpeggios that tend to soothe rather than agitate. This makes for lamentation rather than deep despair, which the Dresser thinks muddles the story.
The Sky Where You Are seems to be the one opera so far not particularly inspired by a story from Boccaccio’s The Decameron. Produced by An Opera Theater of Minneapolis, MN, this work comes with a socio-political message about domestic abuse and how to deal with this heart-rending problem. The music scores at a high pitch given the anxiety of the abused woman Reyna (soprano Katherine Henly). The situation of the story is that Reyna calls her friend Jo (mezzo-soprano Anna Hashizume) for solace and advice while a man’s voice (baritone Justin Anthony Spenner) addressed to Reyna is heard but never seen.
Tickets are priced ridiculous low at $15 for all four segments of this opera. At this date, Episodes 1 through 3 and their talkbacks are available to be viewed at any time. The debut of the last segment airs as follows:
October 30, 2020 Episode 4: The Bolts of Fortune
- “Sourdough: Rise Up” (Resonance Works | Pittsburgh, PA)
- “Corsair” (Chicago Fringe Opera | Chicago, IL)
- “The Happy Hour” (Conclusion)
As is The Dresser’s practice, she give the last words to a contemporary poet. In “Breaking Up with Eros,” Annie Kim details the difficulty of breaking off a love relationship, something that the three mini operas of Tales from a Safe Distance, Episode 3: So Noble a Heart have extreme trouble with.
BREAKING UP WITH EROS
—ending with a line by Frank Bidart
This morning, for example, I miss
your heat: how you flare my skin
into a sun, whipping my cold
dead planets into orbit. To slip
beyond the body’s gate, glide
through its chain-link fence.
I need to find something beyond
just the physical—I’ve had enough from
Column A—proof you’re more Apollo,
less Saturn Devouring His Son.
Mostly I want to be done with you.
Take a match to my fingers, grip
the shiny toilet with both hands, heave—.
Then it’s night again. I’m out,
walking back after dinner, the air soft
as chalk on heavy paper, my pores
are open, ears open, I feel the bricks
of the courthouse crumbling, smell the ivy
crawling across them, bittersweet—
it’s you I want again, your monstrous
light knocking my stained-glass window,
black ink of you raining swift down
parched map of me, blurring all my capitals.
That, at least, was irreparable.
by Annie Kim
from Eros, Unbroken