When: Sat., May 6, 8 p.m. 2017
Interesting things happen when you take opera out of the opera house. Stripping away the grand trappings, the huge orchestras, the intricate sets and choreography, artists can tell different kinds of stories at different scales. It allows for a rebalancing between the singers and instrumentalists, composer and audience, drama and time. One of the most intriguing musical events of 2016 was Hopscotch, an opera strewn about dozens of sites across Los Angeles, with the audience driven from one location to the next. Its fragmentary story was audacious, its use of space inventive.
While Rhymes With Opera hasn't yet put on anything quite that ambitious, this New York-based collective has a similarly adventurous approach toward reconceiving opera for the twenty-first century. Since its founding in 2007, Rhymes With Opera has premiered seventeen new operas of all shapes and sizes, in all conceivable spaces. While cofounder George Lam was finishing his Ph.D. in composition at Duke, Durham was treated to periodic performances in the old Bull City Headquarters, unfinished warehouse space in Golden Belt, and various bars and clubs around town. Each opera was unique, from a meditation on tobacco's role in Durham history (written by Lam) to an abstract listing of numbers by Thomas Limbert. Since then, the company's repertory and reputation have only grown—to the point where it was featured on the cover of Opera News this past August.
So it's exciting to see the ensemble come back to Durham for a free screening of its most intricate project yet, Ruby Fulton's video opera, Adam's Run. It's not a live production, but a work specifically designed for video broadcast. Set in a climate change-addled future where the wildly unpredictable weather is a full-time obsession, the dark comedy tells the story of two TV hosts with diametrically opposed ideologies: the existentialist Julie Shore (Elisabeth Halliday) and the Reverend Billy Noble (Robert Maril), a televangelist and reality show host who is building an ark. When the two meet, they unexpectedly fall in love. The story is told through their various shows as well as a series of new magazine flashbacks by producer Dana Daring (Bonnie Lander).
Fulton's music is widely varied mix of styles from pulsing minimalism to neo-baroque flights of fancy to dissonant counterpoint, an apt complement for the various competing narratives that librettist Baynard Woods explores. The film, directed by Connor Kizer and shot by Rachel Dwiggins, is a hallucinogenic swirl, highlighting the protagonists' contradictory realities. —Dan Ruccia