Wednesday, January 25, 2023

WNO American Opera Initiative Scores Appreciation



On January 21, 2023, the Dresser attended Washington National Opera production of three twenty-minute operas in its American Opera Initiative (AOI) at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater in Washington, DC. The purpose of AOI, which was founded in January 2012, is to showcase emerging composers and librettists to ensure the life of opera programs in the future. The Cafritz Young Artist program provided accomplished singers for each of the operas presented. The chamber orchestra of musicians from the Washington National Opera Orchestra ably conducted by Evan Rogister brought these young composers’ scores to life in front of a full house of enthusiastic audience of mostly young people.


Musically Oshun by composer B.E. Boykin and librettist Jarrod Lee was the Dresser’s favorite. Through flute and drums, Boykin expressed a west African influence. The libretto featured supernatural spirits that fed into a story about love and redemption. The costumes were eye-catching, especially the red-infused Kente cloth clothing worn by the spirits.


Next on the AOI program came another love story. Prejudice against trans people is the timely and important theme of Walken Schweigert’s libretto for What the Spirits Show as set by composer Silen Wellington. However, the Dresser found the music bland and some of the word settings not quite right.


Bubbie and the Demon by composer Jens Ibsen and librettist Cecelia Raker offered a hilarious Covid isolation story about an old woman whose latest crossword puzzle has unlocked a demon into her home who she thinks is her long-lost Goth grandson. Her neighbor Karen, however, is terrified and tries to persuade her friend that this scary figure is evil. The music is tailored to the character and pulls from different influences, including Mahler. Soprano Teresa Perrotta provides a standout performance as Karen.


Short video interviews of the creative team introduced each of these short operas and the composer-librettist team appeared on stage for a bow after each opera performance. A talk back for this less than an hour program would have helped the audience understand better what they heard and saw.

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