Sunday, May 23, 2021

"In the Midst of Things: In Medias Res" streaming from An Opera Theatre

One fun thing about this virtual theater era is that you can discover new companies that you haven't been able to see before, since they're now easily accessible in your own home. Such as the new opera company called simply An Opera Theatre. I love their mission statement: "to produce socially-relevant works, in order to break down the barriers of the classical art form, and bring communities together," and this: "We hope to promote work for working artists in Minnesota. And it doesn't just stop at opera! AOT believes in fusing multiple art forms to create tantalizing theater events for a diverse artistic community." They've created a new original 15-minute opera that they've been sharing with schools around the area, and will be available to the public May 28 - June 6 on their Facebook page and website. I got to see a sneak peek of In the Midst of Things: In Medias Res; it's really great, and left me wanting more!

Written by local artists Robert Elhai (composer) and Christina Baldwin (librettist) and directed by Sequoia Hauck, the piece begins following frazzled teacher Ms. T (KrisAnne Weiss) into her home. She's dealing with a million things as she sits down to teach her class, via Zoom, natch. One by one the students (Adán Varela, Anna Hashizume, Darrius Strong, Justin Anthony Spenner, Mikalia Bradberry, and Phinehas Bynum) pop up in their own little boxes and commence chatting in the chat window and audibly with and over each other. Ms. T is trying to teach a lesson on The Odyssey, but chaos soon wins out. Seeing her frustration, the kids put on a little puppet show of the story to show that they have been paying attention, and a fun fantasy chair-dance sequence breaks out (choreographed by Darrius Strong). In the end it's a love letter to teachers and students who have persevered through a difficult year of learning.

Yes, this is an opera, so yes, it's entirely sung through (with subtitles), which is great and fun and a cool way to tell a story. Robert Elhai is one of our best local composers of music-theater, and Christina Baldwin's talents extend beyond singing, acting, and directing (she was recently named the new Artistic Director of the Jungle) into writing witty and clever lyrics (see also Park Square's really fantastic take on The Pirates of Penzance a few years ago, for which she rewrote the Modern Major General's song, and played him). The two combined to create a fresh, modern, relevant piece, well-performed by the talented cast. In fact I would love to watch a series of episodes that featured each of them more. The tech elements are impressive, from the familiar zoom screen to boxes that move around and expand, and the opening sequence is like a mini film.

I'm no expert on opera, but I love companies like this that make opera accessible, modern, and fun, which this definitely is. Check out In the Midst of Things: In Medias Res beginning this Friday, and watch for more from AOT. I certainly will.

Zoom call or theater?