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Opera tends to gravitate towards the grand. It’s one of the only performance mediums that can capture the turmoil and joy of elaborately complicated conflicts. But what about the everyday inner strifes some struggle with? As One, a new opera at UrbanArias, eschews grandiosity to tell the story of Hannah, a transgender woman, coming out and living freely.
Loosely based on the life story of filmmaker Kimberly Reed, As One was composed by Laura Kaminsky and features a male baritone and a female mezzo-soprano, both performing as Hannah. Director Octavio Cardenas took an abstract approach to the staging, granting the audience access to Hannah’s internalized struggle. “As she goes through her journey, she experiences all kinds of transformation,” Cardenas says. “All the changes physically and psychologically, doubt, fear, acceptance. In the end, however, she learns to take herself as one.”
While the story might be about the life of a transgender person, As One explores themes of acceptance, love, and identity. “It’s always my hope to tell a story that engages the fact that this protagonist is transgender, but very quickly find one way or another to get the audience involved emotionally on a human level,” Reed says. “When I watch As One, I see Hannah’s journey, not my own. It reminds me of my path, but it’s more hers than mine. I want people to have the sense that they know this person, this character.”
For Luis Orozco, who plays Hannah prior to her transition, navigating the emotional peaks and valleys of the character came with its own set of internal struggles. “The most challenging thing has been to go there in those emotions that she is feeling,” Orozco says. “And to still be able to sing very challenging music.” Orozco revels in those kinds of challenges. In particular, he mentions a scene in which Hannah writes a letter explaining why, for the first time, she won’t be coming home for Christmas. “We talked a lot about that feeling, when it gets too hard to go home,” he says. “Getting into the emotional aspect of characters can be difficult.”
This is filmmaker Reed’s first foray into Opera, but it definitely won’t be her last. “Originally, Laura approached me to make a film that would take the place of a set for As One,” she says. “Through that process of talking to her, and librettist Mark Campbell about my experiences, they suggested I co-write the libretto. We clicked, and it turned into a great collaboration.” Later this year, the team is getting back together to plan a future production. “I don’t have a lot of details,” Reed says. “But I am excited to work with them again.” — Connor J. Hogan
As One opens on Saturday, Oct. 3, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Visit UrbanArias.org.
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