It is no wonder that As One is the most produced contemporary opera today. The work by Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell and Kimberly Read currently being performed by Skylark Opera at North Garden Theater is an intimate depiction of coming to age and understanding yourself as a human. Opera is an art form that is fantastic at expressing emotion, in the case of As One that emotion is confusion and joy, fear and understanding. Through a variety of snapshots we the audience watch the protagonist Hannah grow up, learn about herself and who she wants to be in this world. In this case that is a woman and not a man whose body she was born into.
Hannah is portrayed on stage by two singers, a baritone and mezzo soprano, in this production sung by Luke Williams and Bergen Baker. The portrayal of one character by two singers on stage is a concept as new in Opera to me as the subject matter. But director Robert Neu has choreographed a balance that works beautifully. At times Williams and Baker move as one, mirroring each other’s movements. At other times they are warring factions within the same person. I have never seen inner conflict portrayed in such a way that felt so visceral and true. The third character on stage is the world that Hannah is moving around, that is artfully portrayed by projections behind the stage. The film was created by Kimberly Reed, who was also the librettist along with Mark Campbell.
At the post show discussion, for which there is one after every performance, I was lucky enough to hear the composer of As One, Laura Kaminsky speak. She mentioned that she did not mean for As One to be a transgender story, but a human story that happened to have a transgender protagonist. This was very clear in work itself. Although a large part of Hannah’s story of growing up and understanding herself was understanding her own gender identity it was also about feeling awkward as a kid, having a loving but strained relationship with your family, learning how to flirt and the joy of having someone else see you as you see yourself. All things that everyone who has ever grown up and been a person can relate to.
At the same time As One does not ignore the unique challenges and violence that transgender women face in the world. One of the snapshots from Hannah’s life that we see is when she is harassed and terrified by a bigoted man in a parking lot. This scene is layered with readings of names of transgender women around the world that have been killed. It is a very heavy scene that is difficult to watch but to omit it would be ignore the violent world that transgender people, and transgender women, women of color in particular, face every day.
As One is a beautiful and important one act Opera. It is intimate and moving and is only playing for one more weekend at North Garden Theater in Saint Paul. Click here for more information about the show and how to get tickets. If you only see one show next weekend choose As One.