|Thanks to a recently announced $750k grant from the Mellon Foundation, Cerise Jacobs and her activist opera company, White Snake Projects (WSP), are pleased to announce their first complete season of performances in 2022-23. Kicking off the season is Cosmic Cowboy, a poli sci-fi opera composed by award-winning MIT faculty member and former Guggenheim Fellow Elena Ruehr that blends ancient history and fantasy to discuss the subject of colonization. Premiering at ArtsEmerson’s Robert J. Orchard Stage in Boston (Sep 16–18), Cosmic Cowboy marks the first in-person performance by the company since the start of the pandemic. In December is the first installment of Let’s Celebrate!, a new opera series comprising four short operas that supplement traditional holiday programming with stories that more closely mirror the demographics of the company’s community (Dec 10–11). In the spring, continuing its commitment to live, online opera using cutting edge technology, WSP presents Fractured Mosaics, which explores anti-Asian racism (March 30; April 1 & 3). Finally, the company inaugurates another new series in May with “Opera Through the Looking Glass,” which turns the stories of canonical works on their heads to examine their frequently problematic depictions of women and other marginalized people. This season’s installment of the series examines Così fan tutte “through the looking glass.”|
|Operas: Cosmic Cowboy and Fractured Mosaics|
|Jacobs’s twin inspirations for Cosmic Cowboy were the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock and the historic landing of the space probe Philae on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Both events, while undeniably captivating to the human imagination, also lead to questions about the consequences of the colonizing impulse. The opera is an eclectic romp through the universe that ranges from the formation of the cosmos by the mating of the Sumerian gods Tiamat and Apsu to a touching pas de deux between Cooper, a robotic space probe, and Tiamat’s daughter, Tia. The cast includes soprano Carami Hilaire and countertenor Daniel Moody, who were featured in WSP’s digital opera Alice in the Pandemic as the title character and White Rabbit respectively; bass-baritone Tyler Putnam; bass John Paul Huckle, and tenor Charles Calotta. Cosmic Cowboy also represents WSP’s continued exploration of how opera can harness the power of technology to enlarge its expressive palette: an onstage industrial robotic arm portrays Cooper, and the opera features a six-minute introduction in VR (Virtual Reality), further developing the complex technology that was used in WSP’s 2018 video game opera, PermaDeath.|
Ruehr – whose music has been performed and recorded by a host of string quartets, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street with NOVUS NY – characterizes her compositional style as having a complex structure beneath a simple surface. The music for Cosmic Cowboy has echoes of John Adams and Barber, with world music and ancient scales that sound surprisingly modern thrown into the mix. Describing the genesis of her collaboration with Jacobs, Ruehr says:
|“I saw the Ouroboros Trilogy live in Boston and was really impressed by the production values and fantasy and imagination of the work, so I approached Cerise and said I was a composer and wanted to work with her. … She suggested we work together on Cosmic Cowboy. I was a childhood sci-fi geek and still love that kind of story, so I jumped at the opportunity.”|
|An operatic response to the surge in anti-Asian hate crimes, Fractured Mosaics also reflects WSP’s continuing commitment to the live socially distant streaming performance model it developed with such success in the early stages of the pandemic. These digital productions can now be facilitated by WSP’s new invention, the software Tutti Remote, which allows live, synchronous performance from remote locations through the internet. Reviewing the digital production Death by Life, the Boston Musical Intelligencer declared that the company had “set a new standard for online concerts in the age of pandemic,” and the contemporary music online hub I Care if You Listen declared that the “singers … were impressively synced, tuned, and compelling.”|
Underlying the theme of Fractured Mosaics is that even the term “Asian American” is a social and political construct, completely missing the kaleidoscope of cultures and politics of the 20 different ethnic groups that are encompassed under that umbrella, groups that are geographically spread over more than half the land mass of the Earth. The production features music by Benjamin Kono, Randall Eng, Nilo Alcala, Liliya Ugay, and Shirish Korde, who along with their writer partners – Cerise Jacobs, Monique Truong, Deepali Gupta, Sokunthary Svay and Xu Xi – create operatic scenes of Asian Americans establishing themselves in the United States.
|Opera Series: Let’s Celebrate! and Opera Through the Looking Glass|
|Let’s Celebrate!, a projected annual series that will be inaugurated in December, draws on diverse traditions from Eid al-Adha, Havdalah, the Spring Festival, and Day of the Dead to supplement traditional holiday programming with shows tailored to WSP’s community. This season’s performances feature four 20-minute operas by composer/librettist teams: Paul Richards/Wendy Steiner; Guang Yang/Paula Cizmar; Marina Lopez/Paloma Sierra; and Jorge Sosa/Cerise Jacobs, who teamed up on WSP’s opera I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams and the digital opera Alice in the Pandemic. Performers are soprano Helen Huang, mezzo-soprano Kelly Guerra, tenor Elliott Paige, and baritone Evan Bravos.|
WSP’s newest series, “Opera Through the Looking Glass,” is a reexamination of canonical works that have retained their currency despite worldviews and cultural stereotypes that are ill-fitting to the evolving multicultural understanding of the current world. WSP is devoted to performing new work precisely in order to ensure its relevance to a diverse audience, so it is appropriate that its first venture into canonic territory should be in the spirit of critical reassessment. Commissioned and designed to be performed in non-traditional spaces, the reconceived pieces are each 60 minutes long, filled with opera’s greatest hits and sung in English. In the spring, “Opera Through the Looking Glass” presents a reimagined Così fan tutte by composer Ryan Oldham, focusing on the Mozart opera that has arguably the most demeaning and disempowering view of women of any the composer wrote.
|About White Snake Projects|
|White Snake Projects (WSP) is an activist opera company making mission-driven work that unites artmaking with civic practice. It envisions a world where the power of opera expands the collective understanding of community and transforms lives through creative storytelling. The company’s most recent efforts have been devoted to the live digital productions of the Pandemic Trilogy: Alice in the Pandemic addressed the disproportionate strain of COVID-19 on communities of color and essential workers; Death by Life explored long-term incarceration and institutionalized racism; and A Survivor’s Odyssey dealt with the ongoing crisis of sexual and intimate partner violence. A critical element in the exploration of these themes is the establishment of authentic connections with thought leaders in social justice to ensure that the company’s creative work lives in an ecosystem of activism. WSP sees opera not just as performance, but as performance with purpose, a vibrant and vital art form that is also a champion of change.|