We’re ringing in the New Year with another performance: on January 14, UrbanArias will return to the Black Box Theater in Artisphere to present an evening of mini-operas.
This will be our usual mix of the irreverent and the thought-provoking — we’re reprising Jonathan Sheffer and Robert Patrick’s comic take on video communication, Camera Obscura; we also have a delightful gem by DC-area composer Lori Laitman called The Act (about knife throwers); Again, a provocative look at abusive relationships and how they are enabled by Jake Heggie; Jack Perla’s Betty Box Office, which spoofs the degree to which there is a hidden performer in almost every employee of an arts organization; and three short pieces from Seymour Barab’s new cycle of mini-operas, In Questionable Taste.
When I was assembling the program for this evening a few weeks ago, I already knew I wanted to do Camera Obscura again, as we got such a great reception for it in October. I also knew that since I had already programmed Tom Cipullo’s delightful Lucy twice, I should probably look for some pieces that the DC-area public hasn’t seen yet. Although, it would be fair to argue that there are many thousands of people in the area who did not see Lucy. But still.
I generally ask composers with whom I already have a relationship if they have anything that suits our needs, and most of them have files ready to go at a moment’s notice. Jack Perla wrote Betty Box Office for the opening of Tapestry New Opera in Toronto, and he had that and four other mini-operas to me within a few days of my request: they’re all good, but we’ll start with Betty because it lends itself to performances by start-up companies. A few text changes (sanctioned by the composer, of course), and it’s about UrbanArias. It’s amusing to insiders and outsiders alike; it’s extraordinary how many people you run into in the administrative offices of opera companies who are former performers of one kind or another. We all know “Betty”.
I ran into Lori at a party in December, and she mentioned that she had a five-minute opera, which she sent along the next day — I’m delighted to be doing it, although I’m calling our insurance agent about the knife-throwing. Actually, we don’t have an insurance agent yet (!), so I’d better put obtaining one on my list first, and then use conceptual knives. We’re new and edgy, we can get away with a lot, right? Anyway, it’s the director’s problem.
Jake has been very kind in giving us permission to do a couple of his songs and arias at various gigs, and I find his 9-minute opera Again very intriguing. The libretto, by David Patrick Stearns, dissects the relationship between Ricky and Lucy Ricardo (yes, THAT Lucy and Ricky). Is it screwball? Or screwed up? It’s amazing what you can do in nine minutes — this one leaves you feeling thoughtful, and perhaps a little unsettled.
So after I assembled all of that, I still needed a few more pieces to bring us up to a performance that would be about an hour long. Enter Seymour Barab, whose work I have admired for years. Edrie Means, one of our cast members last October, and a returning artist for our January show, knows him, and has sung a number of his works — she also, as it turns out, has his phone number. (He prefers to speak to a person rather than communicate by email, which is what the youth mean, I think, when they say “Kicking it Old School”; although possibly they mean something else.) Mr. Barab is very charming in person, so I’m glad I called; he told me he had a whole cycle of mini-operas/musicals that are brand new, called In Questionable Taste. I told him it sounded right up our alley.
Well! I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. They’re all jokes, expanded, staged, and set to music. They’re very funny (although some of them are a little coarse for us; after all, we do hope to get NEA funding some day!) — even more so if you already know the punch line. Watching the characters get to the inevitable is a reward in itself.
I have chosen three of the cleaner ones, although I won’t spoil them for you here; you’ll have to come on the 14th. I will tell you, though, that the cast burst out laughing as they read through each of them.
So we have a nice, varied program, and a great cast, and we have two short weeks to put this all together. Now I know why arts organizations don’t schedule performances so soon after the the holidays — no one is around to work. UrbanArias is scrappy, though, and I’m sure will pull it off with aplomb. After all, they’re only ten-minute pieces – how hard can they be? (This is a question I have been asked, and the short answer is: very. The long answer is for another post.)
I hope you can join us on January 14 and a very Happy New Year to everyone!