Quite au courant, the story depicts an individual navigating a gender transition. Two singers, one male, one female, portray “Hannah Before” and “Hannah After,” both remaining onstage from start to finish. Boston Opera Collaborative’s production (running through Sunday) of Laura Kaminsky’s As One, to a libretto by Kimberly Reed and Mark Campbell opened Thursday night at Longy School of music at Bard College.
Commissioned and developed by American Opera Projects, it premiered four years ago at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and since then has racked up productions by 16 companies, with another six slated for 2018. Tickets for the chamber opera with string quartet are HERE.
The show is double-cast, but when one of the singers had to drop out just a few weeks before opening night, co-directors Greg Smucker and Patricia Weinmann tapped local mezzo Jaime Korkos to fill the vacancy. Intelligencer contributor Basil Considine recently spoke with Korkos ( after cantoring at St. Cecilia Boston) about stepping into this new contemporary-opera role on short notice.
BC: You’re stepping in on short notice to sing in Boston Opera Collaborative’s production of As One. When did you first hear of it?
JK: When Boston Opera Collaborative announced that they were staging it.
This is an opera that has had a very particular resonance with audiences. In just a few years, it’s been produced by more than a dozen opera companies across the United States, which is very unusual for a new opera in this day and age. What was your reaction when you first heard about it?
I went on YouTube to see if there were excerpts. I wanted to see what it sounded like. The arias I found were extremely beautiful, and I thought, “Oh, this is very interesting!” I read up about it a little bit, but then my mind moved on to other things — until I got the phone call.
Video from BAM world premiere.
How did you get asked to sing in this production?
I was in California visiting family and got a text message from Greg Smucker. Greg was one of my acting teachers at New England Conservatory, and co-taught with Patricia Weinmann. The two of them are also co-directors of Boston Opera Collaborative. We’ve done many things together. His message said, “We’ve had someone have to drop out of the production for health reasons — what do you think?”
I didn’t think too long. I was scheduled to sing in the chorus for the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Carmen, so I told Greg, “Before saying ‘yes’, I just have to call them and see if they will release me from my contract.” I’m very serious about not bailing on someone in this type of situation. I sent BYSO an email and they said, “Go do it!” And then, even though I hadn’t seen a score or video yet, I told Greg I’ll do it.
So, just to clarify, before dropping the Boston Youth Symphony gig, did you or did you not think of the children?
[laughs] I’ve worked with BYSO before and they are fantastic. They have a huge chorus and usually have a waiting list of people hoping to work with them. I wouldn’t have done As One if they’d said no, but they were very generous.
January 8th was when Greg asked me to sing the part. January 9th I worked things out with BYSO. My first rehearsal was January 10th, the day that I got my score. I’ve pretty much done nothing besides eat, sleep, and breathe the opera since.
As One isn’t a Wagner-length opera, but all of the vocals come from just two singers. How do its demands compare with other roles you’ve learned?
It is quite demanding. Depending on timing and staging, I think As One ranges between 75 and 90 minutes in length. Our production is right around 75-80 minutes, which is split in half between the singers with some overlap — 55-60 minutes of singing. I’ve done other roles where you have a lot of singing, like Massenet’s Cendrillon (where Cinderella / Cendrillon has five arias plus duets and trios). That’s a ton of singing, but you get breaks in the middle. This isn’t the case in As One – there are no dance interludes and choruses. It’s just the two singers and a string quartet; because we the singers are conveying that we are one person, you’re literally onstage the whole time. You never leave the stage for the entire night, which is fairly demanding.
I’m lucky that the range of this piece fits fairly well for my voice. Because of the time that I was cast, there wasn’t a lot of time to do what we call “sing a role into your voice” (which is when you take a lot of time to sing and just work with it). The singing isn’t as technically demanding as some of the dramatic aspects.
Tell us more about the range demands. The premiere of As One featured a mezzo, but it’s been sung by sopranos as well. Where does it sit vocally, how does it sit, and where does it go?
It does have a lot of range; I believe that the lowest note is a G below middle C and the highest is an A or A-flat above the staff. How it sits probably depends on what type of voice you have; mine likes to jump around in terms of register, so I like this kind of stuff.
I did sing soprano earlier, but the soprano repertoire is sometimes less comfortable when it gets very high. Really, the difference between mezzos and sopranos is more about the color of your voice and where you’re comfortable singing most of your notes. There is a lot of Fs, Gs, As above the staff, but I think many mezzos and sopranos can comfortably sing it.
What are the dramatic and acting demands of this piece like?
One of the big things about this piece is that you can’t leave the stage, and have to be present and in character the whole time. Even when the other singer-actor is singing, you’re still acting, because we’re emphasizing that these two people onstage are actually one person.
It’s a really beautiful opera, but it’s also really exhausting. There’s no break for me once the opera begins until it’s done. You’re in character from start to finish.
What was your process for learning the music?
They did send me a video of the opera, but I haven’t watched it all the way through. After I watched a few minutes, I contacted someone in the show and asked if Boston Opera Collaborative’s production was similar. They said no, and so I stopped watching.
Since I was learning the music so quickly [16 days from first rehearsal to opening night], I wanted to concentrate on the score and learning the music accurately and correctly. Recordings and productions don’t always entirely follow what’s on the page, even when everything is together, and I wanted to make sure that I learned what the composer had written.
What’s a favorite part of the opera?
As One is about the journey and the transition, and it’s all so beautiful that it would be really hard to pick. It’s the whole journey that I love the most. But the arias are very lovely.
See related review here.
Basil Considine is the Twin Cities Arts Reader‘s Performing Arts Editor and its Senior Classical Music and Drama Critic; he remains an occasional contributor to The Boston Music Intelligencer.