Opera Idaho to Host Panel Discussion Before Staging 'As One' Opera About Transgender Woman 

As One, an opera by Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed about a transgender woman's journey of self-discovery, isn't the first divisive production that Boise's Opera Idaho has put on—its 2016 staging of Glory Denied, about a Vietnam War POW, also raised a few eyebrows (and hackles). But it's the first to merit a panel discussion before it hits the stage.

Since its premier at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in September of 2014, As One has had a meteoric rise. In the 2017-2018 season, it was the 11th most-produced opera in the country, coming in between two Mozart productions: The Magic Flute (No. 12) and Don Giovanni (No. 10). Opera Idaho General Director Mark Junkert said that critical acclaim was part of the attraction of the bringing the opera to Boise, but added that he also likes to stage operas that touch on current issues and events, even if that means facing blowback from the opera's more conservative attendees. As One will also be Opera Idaho's first production composed by a woman.

click to enlarge COURTESY OPERA IDAHO
  • Courtesy Opera Idaho
"This is a topic that we have found, some people love that we're doing it and we've had half a dozen people call and ask to be removed from our mailing list," said Junkert.

Before As One opens in The Danny Peterson Theatre at Boise State University on Thursday, May 9, Opera Idaho will host a panel discussion moderated by Junkert at The Linen Building on Wednesday, May 1, at 7 p.m. Its focus will be on gender identity, and panelists include Michael Kelly and Blythe Gaissert—who play As One's main character, Hannah, before (Kelly) and after (Gaissert) transition—along with Idaho Senator Maryanne Jordan (a supporter of Idaho's Add the Words campaign) and three members of Boise's transgender community: Emilie Jackson-Edney, Percephone Bias and Dayne Law.

"In this case, because it's a little more controversial and an unknown topic really for a lot of our patrons, we thought we'd devote more time to it," Junkert said of the panel, which will replace his usual pre-show talk. "...We'll also have feedback sessions after each of the performances, which we haven't done in my time here. That's with the two singers, who play the characters of Hannah Before and Hannah After, and also Mark Cambell, one of the librettists [lyric writers]."

click to enlarge Michael Kelly plays Hannah Before. - COURTESY OPERA IDAHO
  • Courtesy Opera Idaho
  • Michael Kelly plays Hannah Before.
Jackson-Edney, a community activist with the Pride Foundation (which helped sponsor the upcoming opera) who described herself as "an older transwoman," said that although she hadn't heard of As One before Opera Idaho announced its 2018-2019 season, she was excited for opening night. She also had high hopes for the panel discussion, where she'll sit beside a local trans man (Law) and a younger trans woman of color (Bias).

"We'll hopefully make some sort of reference for people who maybe don't understand the transgender phenomenon, you know, and what the opera is all about," said Jackson-Edney, adding that she supports any educational opportunity that elevates the conversation about the needs of transgender people. "...I think this will open people's eyes to the struggles that trans people deal with not only in society but internal struggle with their identities."

click to enlarge Blythe Gaissert plays Hannah After. - COURTESY OPERA IDAHO
  • Courtesy Opera Idaho
  • Blythe Gaissert plays Hannah After.
Junkert said Opera Idaho has positioned As One for a different, younger audience, and staging it in a smaller venue at Boise State rather than at the Morrison Center was part of that strategy. It will also run just three days: Thursday-Saturday, May 9-11, starting at 7:30 p.m. each night. Still, he said he hopes older, more conservative opera lovers will still give As One a chance.

"There is some amount of, just anybody will relate to this who has been an outcast in any way, I think. That's a way to approach it if you don't want to approach the [transgender] issue," he said. "...Everybody at some point in their life has felt like the 'other' person." 
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