Alexandra Enyart (conductor), Heather Jones & Michael Kelly in As One. Photo: KY Opera

As One

Kentucky Opera
Music by Laura Kaminsky
Libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed
Film by Kimberly Reed
Directed by Robert Barry Fleming

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

When one thinks of opera, it is a grandiose affair complete with lavish costumes and scenery and a parade of talent both on stage and in the orchestra pit. While that cliche is often true, there is a niche of opera called Chamber Opera that often employs just a smattering of vocalists and instrumentalists and uses a minimalist style of scenery and costumery.

This style is gaining traction in contemporary opera compositions and one example has become a most oft-performed piece in the past ten years, titled As One

Written by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed, As One is a three-act story of Hannah and how they have struggled with identity and realizing who they are and where they may belong. Set to music by Laura Kaminsky, we get to watch young Hannah turn into older Hannah and we listen to the confusion in songs like “Paper Route, and Sex Ed” to the suppression of feelings of self in “Perfect Boy,” then on to discovery and self-realization through “Three Words” and Close,” only to be met by hate from others through “Out of Nowhere,” but to contentment in self in “Norway.”

The libretto and music not only tell Hannah’s story and give us their point of view, but it does so in an ugly, delightful, and self-reflective way. Yes, there are some truly unclean moments within the brilliant instrumentation along the string quartet accompaniment that drives themes further into the consciousness, but with a stroke of the bow, there is light and hope once more. The libretto is expertly deep and introspective making the listener a voyeur into Hannah’s tale.

The role of Hannah, played by Michael Kelly as the younger and Heather Jones as the older play off each other in a way that we as humans often communicate…. we talk to ourselves. Who among us has not expressed a range of emotions, either aloud or internally or even within a diary? Kelly and Jones are Hannah’s voice and emotions. 

Michael Kelly’s younger Hannah brings the audience into the insecurity that Hannah is feeling and into the fold, often singing with such sweetness that makes you want to reach out and hold his hand. With a strong voice with a focus on diction and delivery, Kelly sets the tone. Heather Jones as older Hannah struggled with singing over the stringed ensemble, so there were times that whole phrases would be lost in translation. However, Jones acted with pinpoint accuracy, and the vocalization was impactful when the lyrics could be heard.

The instrumentalists, made of Heather Thomas and Brittany MacWilliams on violin, Laura De St. Croix-Vicic on viola, and Cecilia Huerta-Lauf on cello were all well-maintained and energized under the baton of conductor Alexandra Enyart. The score is challenging and technical and the ensemble navigated it with little trouble.

Under the direction of Actors Theatre’s own Robert Barry Fleming, the choices made for Hannah’s story were well thought out and played with the lightest of touches, complete with a fun use of Kemberly Reed’s film that serves as the background.

The opera is being presented at Kentucky Opera’s new home, and I suggest that you sit directly facing the draped wall so that you can watch the film and the performers on stage together rather than from the sidelines.

To be honest, there is a chance that you are not going to walk out of the theater humming much of the music as say you would with Carmen or Mikado, but through the recitatives and pointed songs, there is a good chance that you may walk away with a better understanding of how some members of our LGBTQA+ community live and survive and perhaps gain some introspection of your own.

Bravi Tutti!!!

As One

April 12, 18, & 19 @ 8:00 pm
April 14 @ 2:00 pm
April 16 @ 1:30 pm

Kentucky Opera Center for Community Health
708 Magazine Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York, and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over 25+ years of experience in the classical arts.