Thursday, August 3, 2023

A profoundly moving experience

Two wonderful tree images are leafing out in my head as a result of Seattle Opera’s Creation Lab 2023, a showcase for short new operas produced in June. It isn’t as much that the allegorical images were particularly new, but because they appeared in two back-to-back productions. The resulting impact was stunning for me. I hope I never forget them.

I attended all six of the short new operas over two afternoons and was mightily impressed the overall project and the talent exhibited in each work. Each opera had something to admire, enjoy, and be impressed with. Afterwards, I spent a long-time reading bios and backgrounds of the unknown-to-me librettists and composers who created the operas, and googled all the vocal and instrumental musicians.

In Ghosts in the Forest by Darby Sherwood and Mieke Johanna Doezema, the ghost who is searching ostensibly for her body, but more likely for peace of mind after trauma, finds comfort in the wisdom of the tree who lovingly sings its truth. “I lose my leaves each year, they drop away and die. Then new leaves and life appear and I am born again. I start all over, fresh.” (Apologies to librettist Darby Sherwood—these are not her words, merely the message I took away.)

In Everything After by Elizabeth Howell and Spencer Edger, the sadly frantic twenty-nine-year old tenor searches in personal turmoil for the person he has yet to become. He mourns that he is almost thirty but feels as lost and unformed as he did as a thirteen-year-old. His grandfather appears in a dream to reassure him, explaining he is like a tree still rooting in the earth. He is growing his foundation but it’s unseen by him and others. Roe will emerge and fill the space, take his place above the surface when the unseen is finished. “You are still rooting, dearest grandson.” Again, apologies to Spencer Edger, the librettist—this is the message that has stayed with me, not even close to the exact words.

Both operas brought me into a surface shiver, and tears formed in my eyes as I squinched my face to keep myself quiet. Flowing tears must not turn into sobs when a performance is underway. I wanted to hear the music. I wanted to linger in the beauty and the wisdom of the moment. But even now, when I recollect those two works, I have teared-up. And that they were serendipitously presented back-to-back made the tree imagery exceptionally powerful. 

Thank you, Seattle Opera, for this beautiful experience. I enjoyed each of the six operas of Creation Lab immensely, but the final two, for me, were unforgettable.

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