It isn't easy to get a new opera off the ground these days. First, someone needs to write a libretto. Then, someone needs to write the music. Then comes the long, painstaking process of figuring out what works musically and dramatically, and what doesn't. And, then, after all of that, you need to find someone who's willing to stage it. Just ask David T. Little or Missy Mazzoli, whose "Dog Days" and "Songs From the Uproar," respectively, have been in various stages of workshop for the past three years. ("Songs" is finally having it's world premiere at The Kitchen next month, staged by the intrepid Beth Morrison Projects; "Dog Days" will receive its premiere at Montclair State University in September.)
Three years ago, composer/performer Kamala Sankaram was invited to join HERE's Artist Residency Program (better known as HARP), where she was given the resources and time necessary to develop her own operatic project, Miranda: a sort-of postmodern murder mystery co-written by Rob Reese, who also served as director. Excerpts from Miranda were previously shown during HERE's annual Culturemart Festival in 2010 and 2011; throughout the process, artists were given hands-on training with everything from marketing and production planning, to budgeting and grant writing.
Miranda finally received it's first full production two weeks ago on HERE's mainstage (I saw the performance on Friday, 1/20.) Crafted in the Victorian-futurist style known as Steampunk, the one-act opera concerns the murder and subsequent trial of diet-pill heriess Miranda Wright (performed by Sankaram.) A bailiff (Jerry Miller) served as an engaging and enthusiastic M.C., instructing the audience - the de facto jury of the made-for-TV trial - on rules and protocol. A metallic-voiced computer projection named D.A.V.E. (short for "Differential Autonomous Verification Engine," sung by countertenor Eric Brenner) served as virtual judge. Among the accused were Miranda's father, Izzy (Pat Muchmore, best known as the founder of Anti-Social Music), Miranda's mother, Anjana Challapattee Wright (Rima Fand) and her fiancee, Cor Prater (Drew Fleming). The singers were joined by reed players Ed Rosenberg and Jeff Hudgins.
The music was catchy, combining rock and electronica with hints of jazz, funk, and classical. Sankaram led the way with her penetrating coloratura soprano, sounding like a Mozart heroine while simultaneously playing the accordion. Muchmore did the same on countertenor and cello, while Fleming plucked at an electric guitar and Fand played violin. One wonders if such double-duty will become more and more prevalent among performers as opera continues to go the way of grassroots.