At The Other Side of The Earth
A Riot Girl Opera
Music and libretto by Marie Incontrera
Directed by Jasmine Presson
Wow Cafe Theater, NYC
Thursday, Oct. 11th, 2012
The first thing that you see when you walk into the very small room that is the Wow Cafe Theater is the scrim that serves as the graffiti wall backrdrop for At the Other Side of The Earth, Marie Incontrera‘s new one-act opera, and it is laden with slogans that are all at once relevant, not only for gay people but also for people in general that are conscious of current events, like “Free Pussy Riot”, “It gets better”, “Out loud and proud”, “R.I.P. Matthew Shepard”, and there were also two rather prominent visuals: a rainbow-colored fist with a spiked bracelet with the word “pride” over it, and two interlocked women’s lib symbols. Indeed, this was not only relevant to the plot of our opera, but it was like a sonic banner that made its message loud and clear to an unassuming audience–a call to arms for human rights, gay rights and equality, sexual freedom and expression. A message that is still privy to controversy to this day.
With a short running time of 35 mins, and a small cast of 4, At The Other Side of The Earth centers around a girl named Aurora, who in this piece is represented by not one but two singers–Katherine Cardin as the shy and guarded half of the character, and Ilana Zarankin as the liberated and assured half. They were distinguished not only by their body language but also their clothing–Though they both had on jeans and button-down shirts, Zarankin’s shirt was open. Layla, the punk-rock riot girl, played by Jasmine Presson (who also directed the production) is the other heroine and figurehead of this story that manages to liberate Aurora from her shy half. Tabes Bridges portrays The Man, who as a representative of law enforcement and governmental figures serves in this story as a symbol of bureaucratic brutality and hypocrisy–After he’s done arresting the girls and separating them from their new-found relations, he proceeds to take Layla into his office and have his way with her. Later on, he returns and makes crass sexist jokes while continuing to berate them for their sinfulness. He leaves them, and the two women are alone together at last.
The piece ends with Aurora, liberated and seemingly whole, having lost the shy half of herself.
Marie Incontrera’s work is very much a study of one’s self having gone through a sexual awakening, and doing so in a dystopian world. The two halves circling at the piece’s start is symbolic of the way people find themselves divided for various reasons, but it does hit home for those trying to find one’s self, and Aurora definitely is representative of anyone who is discovering their sexual identity for the first time. The repression coming from The Man is a symbolic version of every conservative outcry towards things remotely provocative in the artistic and free-living world.
The characters seem to be extreme versions of what would normally be groups of characters in a grander opera with a larger cast and a bigger setting. My guess is that Marie had simply avoided not only opera cliches but also making the opera over-complex and not letting it take 2 hours and change to say what she managed to say in only 35 minutes.
The small cast is quite dead on: Jasmine Presson IS the operatic riot girl, and is one of those performers that makes for an iconic presence in the role they’ve originated. She even gets in some humorus spoken-word as well as a few cries of “RIOT!” during the otherwise gorgeously-sung role. Ilana Zarankin and Katherine Cardin as the 2 halves of Aurora is something to witness–They both sung beautifully, but the real treat is to see the difference between their characterizations–to see one being hopeful and anxious where the other is so painfully shy when Layla is trying to talk to her. It’s a fascinating performance that looks as if two people would literally have to be pulled from the same person to get. Tabes Bridges does a reasonably menacing reading as The Man–he seemed a bit nervous during the premiere performance, but he sounds wonderful in what was his operatic debut.
Marie’s music in this piece is not punk-rock. She does have some punk and jazz influences in her music, but the ensemble that played was a string quartet, and she kept it in a contemporary classical world. One wonders what the piece would have been like if she’d added a loud distorted guitar and drums to the ensemble, but my guessing is that she didn’t want to turn it into American Idiot. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Good call, Marie!]
And other things of note: Marie the composer was to my left conducting this piece! Much like it was when Victoria Bond was near me conducting Mrs. President, it was inspiring to witness the fruits of an artist being executed for all to see for the first time. And Fred Ho, her teacher and mentor was at the premiere as well. Reportedly, he likes the piece.
There’s two more performances of the opera of you want to catch it before it closes!
At The Other Side Of The Earth (A Riot Girl Opera)
Sat, 10/13/12, 8 PM
Sun, 10/14/12, 3 PM
WOW Cafe Theatre
59-61 East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003