The quest to remain relevant and acquire a younger following is an ongoing battle, but with the Australian premiere of As One, Gertrude Opera has taken a significant leap towards achieving those goals.
The first opera to focus on the transgender experience, As One premiered in 2014 in Brooklyn, New York. A perfect fit for Midsumma Festival, its novice-friendly 75 minute duration will appeal to those outside the regular opera-going crowd.
The story follows one character played by two singers: a baritone, Hannah Before and a mezzo soprano, Hannah After.
They are two sides of the same coin, interacting with each other throughout and singing in awkward, intentionally unsettling intervals.
We witness Hannah’s life from pre-pubescent boy to the discovery of who she truly is as a young adult. Only then do both Hannahs sing in unison, as one. But the path to acceptance is paved with tremendous internal struggle and heartbreak.
Joshua Erdelyi-Gotz’s Hannah Before is sweet and earnest; he portrays the innocence of a child longing to be loved with believable sincerity.
His baritone is warm and his diction excellent, though as a young singer he doesn’t yet have complete command over his instrument.
Originally the understudy, soprano Marie Campbell stepped in at short notice and did so admirably. Hannah After experiences more complex emotions, which Campbell captures with empathy and humour.
When still a teenager, Hannah researches at the library and discovers she is not alone.
“I learn there are others,” they sing. It’s a hopeful moment, but it’s here the oppressive loneliness of Hannah’s inner conflict first becomes fully apparent. It is terribly sad.
Laura Kaminsky’s contemporary score for string quartet is conducted here with care and control by American Alexandra Enyart, her fourth time at the helm of this piece. Director Linda Thompson’s sparse production contains only the essential elements, but it doesn’t need much else.
A one-act minimalist opera about a transgender woman could be feared as something of an operatic preaching, symbolic without being meaningful.
Perhaps because it’s inspired by transgender artist and co-librettist Kimberly Reed’s own experience, As One succeeds in being evocative and authentic. Ultimately, a story of finding your true self and your place in the world is relatable to just about everybody.