I was among the audience present at the Ernest Balmer Studio for the birth of Amplified Opera, the brain-child of Teiya Kasahara & Aria Umezawa, in the first of three different programs to launch a new opera company.
Directed by Aria, The Way I See It was a fascinating combination of music & story-telling from two artists describing their experiences with blindness.
American mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin did most of the talking and all of the singing.
Canadian pianist Liz Upchurch played the piano, sometimes dialoguing with Laurie, sometimes offering her own perspective.
Virtuosity is almost incidental to this kind of testimony, an authenticity that makes it somehow irrelevant as to whether the mezzo can hit the high A in the aria or not, the notes the pianist plays being a kind of confessional concert music. As a matter of fact Laurie does have a beautiful voice, stunning down low & wonderfully accurate up top. And Liz is an extraordinary collaborator. While her sensitive playing has always impressed me I never knew she had any issues with her eyesight, making me suddenly think of people like Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder. Does the weakness in one sense lead to an enhanced ability in other senses, better hearing? Perhaps. Yet what mattered was the vulnerability, the authenticity, and not intonation or skill.
After the music-drama of songs & personal storytelling we had one of the more probing talk-back sessions I’ve ever seen. It made for a complete meal, given that the discursive doors opened in the show gave us several possible directions for investigation. I’m eager to see how the format plays out tomorrow night, pursuing a different subject, as it will be Teiya in the spotlight this time, again leading to a talkback session.
I believe Aria & Teiya must be proud that their first program appears to be living up to their ideals, as they laid them out in a recent interview. Yes we heard some Copland, some Brahms & Fauré, Mahler & Rodgers, Bach for piano, a Rossini aria. That’s an academic concern, really, and peripheral to what we were really experiencing, in this wonderfully unprotected exploration of life. The lens for what we were seeing might have been blindness, but that too might be incidental. The point is that Aria & Teiya brought Liz & Laurie together, facilitating our experience tonight.
For years I’ve been asking whether opera is dead, given that the same few works make up 99% of what gets presented, the same misogynistic story-lines persist while new works tend to vanish, rarely given a second production.
Amplified Opera would suggest the medium is alive & well.
- Tomorrow: October 11, 2019 @ 7:30 – The Queen in Me
- Saturday: October 12, 2019 @ 7:30 – What’s Known to Me is Endless