by James Foritano
CAMBRIDGE, MA — It sometimes happens that you don’t know you’re looking at art. For me, “As One,” a chamber orchestra for two voices and string quartet, performed, over the last weekend of January by the Boston Opera Collaborative, qualified, eminently, for that accolade.
As usual, many elements contribute to this grand illusion — which doesn’t seem to be an illusion, but life itself. Firstly, all the elements cohere, from conception to execution. “As One’s” story evolved from a long and happy collusion between a much-practiced librettist, Mark Campbell, and filmmaker Kimberly Reed.
Ms. Reed contributed not only the montage of film that contributes such depth and illumination to the on-stage action, but also unique insights into the operetta’s theme of growing up and into a transgender woman’s torturous journey from one gender to another — Ms. Reed’s own transition.
In the after-performance talk, Mr. Campbell ingenuously admitted that if Kimberly hadn’t been so present in their collaboration, the deeply affecting story would have been, well, “stupider.” Indeed, there are more than a few points in this very contemporary, very personal odyssey, which pulse which such authenticity that they seem, on hearing and seeing, both surprising and also absolutely “right.”
The music, by composer Laura Kaminsky, also hews to the story’s lighter and darker moments, comedic and near tragic turns with a flexibility that earned one reviewer’s compliment to her musical sensibility and skills as “fire and ice.” This astonishing flexibility allows us to experience the dissonance, the fragility, the concord and consonance of growing up and into transgender maturity.
And concurrently, allows us, as audience, to re-experience our own adolescent journeys as well as journeys beyond to later stages of maturity — equally fraught with lasting joys and sorrows, gains and losses.
Beyond a highly felicitous collaboration between script writers and composer, this reviewer likes to think that a final “stroke of genius” must have arrived to no one artist’s particular credit but wholly as a gift from the muse, to all.
Baritone Scott Ballantine is protagonist “Hannah’s” pre-transition male gender, while mezzo soprano Rebecca Krouner is “Hannah’s” post transition self.
They both sing in key; act in concert, brilliantly. And they, like brother and sister, never leave each other, sharing power and surrendering power (As One) in a dual dance-of-life that both, again, surprises our preconceptions and yet seems so absolutely natural to the complex mechanics of an organic transition. Come to think of it, our very own transitions!
The Boston Opera Collaborative brought this production of “As One” to the stage of its Cambridge host, The Longy School of Music of Bard College.
“As One” is moving on to other cities and also “staying put” as the Boston Opera Collaborative is, thankfully, continuing its mission of bringing cutting edge performances by emerging opera singers through further collaboration with Longy.
Longy voice and music students are now studying “As One” in preparation for bringing their student productions to intimate venues in the Boston and greater Boston area in a new project for next semester. Be there — if you know what’s good for you.
(Upcoming Boston Opera Collaborative performances include “A Song Recital featuring Songs Set to Texts Written by or from the Viewpoint of Children” on Friday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the New School of Music, 25 Lowell St., Cambridge, Mass., and “La Bohème from April 12 through 22 at Turtle Swamp Brewing, Jamaica Plain. For more details, call (617) 517-5883 or visit http://www.bostoncollaborativeopera.org.)