As One — Original Cast Recording

What’s the most frequently performed new opera in America at present? It’s Laura Kaminsky’s 2014 chamber opera, As One, whose libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed explores the coming out process of its protagonist, Hannah, as a transgender woman.

Although an original cast video of As One is not available—the excerpt below is from the 2014 premiere at Brooklyn Academy of Music—an original cast audio recording was released on June 28, 2019. For the project, from the Bright Shiny Things label, the opera’s original cast of two singers, the wife-husband team of mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and baritone Kelly Markgraf, was reunited in 2018 with original conductor Steven Osgood and the Fry Street Quartet at Utah State University. (Audiophiles will recall Ray Kimber’s IsoMike recordings of the Fry Street Quartet.) The original cast recording of As One, which I auditioned in 24/96 file format, is now available as both a CD and high-rez download from the label Bright Shiny Things. Produced by industry veteran Judith Sherman, it gives the large, naturally resonant voices of Cook and Markgraf too much prominence, but it nonetheless allows assessment of the work’s score and libretto without the addition of animated visuals.

The story begins as young Hannah, a biological male who has a part-time job delivering newspapers, begins to explore her identity as a woman. By the time she reaches college, her struggle with gender identity, transformation, and self-acceptance has reached a head. One minute, she enjoys the first time a man flirts with her; shortly thereafter, she escapes a potential hate crime. At opera’s end, she takes refuge in Norway, where she finds the strength and self-love to bring all the parts of herself together as Hannah.

The opera’s creators chose to explore the two sides of Hannah by splitting the character into two parts, “Hannah before” and “Hannah after.” To underscore the essential oneness that underlies Hannah’s bifurcated existence, they took advantage of the intimacy born of a relationship by casting the impressively impassioned, virile-voiced Markgraf as “before,” and his wife, the exceptionally warm and full-voiced Cooke, as “after.” The palpable chemistry that these two superb artists bring to their many duets helps bring Hannah’s story to life. So do the recording’s liner notes, which use an unusual layout to add a vital theatrical aspect to an otherwise project that otherwise would lack any visual element.

I had hoped that the music and story of As One would make for compelling listening without their visual component. I find that the libretto holds interest, and I recommend the recording as such, but questions linger over the music.

Over 150 years ago, Richard Wagner began exploring ways to retain interest during long swaths of operatic dialogue by animating the emotions beneath his libretto’s words with oft-surging, emotion-laden waves of orchestral accompaniment. Kaminsky, alas, is not Wagner. As I read the libretto while listening, I kept waiting to be swept away by the emotions surging within Hannah’s heart and soul. Instead, I found myself constantly reading ahead in the libretto, moved more by the story than the music per se. While I heard lots of expressive dissonance, far too much of the vocal line and its accompaniment was of only moderate musical interest.

An example is when Hannah-after breaks into modest coloratura runs toward the end of the opera. In bel canto opera, rapid, multi-octave coloratura are motivated by drama. When Lucia flies higher and higher in Lucia di Lammermoor—especially when she duets with glass harmonica in her Mad Scene—her rapid ascents and descents express her desperation, love, and madness. In As One, I couldn’t make sense of Hannah after’s flights. They seemed gratuitous, as in, “Let’s give Cooke, who is one of the finest mezzos of our time, music that will show off all she can do.” Maybe the runs were intended to signify emotional surges, but they failed to touch my heart.

Another example: It was nice to hear snatches of familiar Christmas tunes in the string quartet accompaniment during the Christmas scene, but once they were gone, I was adrift. The music that followed failed to fully convey Hannah’s struggle.

Bu that’s just me speaking. I’d love you to listen for yourself and tell me that I’m wrong.

[Editor’s note: Our original lede contained an error, now fixed.]

Click Here: Manchester City soccer tracksuit

0 thoughts on “As One — Original Cast Recording”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *