The uncharted brave new frontier for several opera companies, including our own Lyric Opera of the North (LOON), is back with the Decameron Project’s stunning and moving virtual production, “Heroes.”
Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, when opera could no longer perform live, nine American companies collaborated with new short opera films in “Tales From a Safe Distance.”
This year’s filmed Decameron offering, “Heroes,” has seven world premiere one-act short films presented in three episodes. They are framed by a gorgeous art song cycle with original music by Peter Hilliard and libretto by Matt Boresi, and sung magnificently by soprano Karen Slack.
The “Heroes”’ introductory note reads, “Our diverse collection of creators explore the meaning of heroism and profile unsung, unconventional, or misunderstood heroes from varying eras and geographies.”
Performed as three episodes, Loon’s offering was part of the first episode, “Answering the Call.” “The Place,” directed masterfully by Atlese Robinson, has a mythical and mysterious ambiance where Enitan (James Dargan) is filming the meeting of two generations of Black women, Olive (Marquita Lister) and Nia (Mikalia Bradberry).
A haunting score by composer Maria Thompson Corley, and evocative lyrics from librettist Sandra Gbeinor Oyinloye, are sung and acted to perfection by the trio of Dargan, Lister and Bradberry.
According to Oyinloye, “The Place” focused on three modern-day heroes, existing authentically with the desire of changing culture in their way. Many people inspired each character because the heroes are many in our community. Ultimately, I chose three people that inspired me and trusted me with their experiences and stories as heroes to shed light on our heroes.”
Set on a windswept day, with the waves of Lake Superior crashing on the lonely beach, the atmospheric film creates a mythical and mysterious mood. The past meets the present in a tale that is noted in the program as being “a story that emphasizes the heroic act of existing while passing strength, encouragement, healing, and stories to the next generation.”
Olive is there to pass on her wisdom to Nia and Enitan, who are both unsure how to navigate their way in a cultural, political and social landscape that is spinning faster and often on an unstable axis. Olive tells them they are “her hope” and that they “have what it takes to change the world.”
Nia is moved to pick up the torch for freedom and equality. Enitan decides he will not only be a recorder of history, but also must take part in the togetherness required to get to a new day.
The musical ensemble of Betsy Husby (cello); Greg Kehl Moore (saxophone) and Henry Eichman (marimba, vibraphone, and percussion) provides a wonderful accompaniment to the three exceptional voices.
Bravo as well to the production team of Don Schraufnagel, orchestra recording engineer; Bill Munson, audio engineer; Daniel Oyinloye, videographer; and Ora Jewell-Busche, costumer and stylist.
LOON’s Sarah Lawrence and Cal Metts continue to be heroes for finding new and creative ways to bring incredible talents and voices to audiences, not only to the Northland, but to opera audiences everywhere.
One of Enitan’s lyrics says, “To survive we must believe/there is power in our story.” The Decameron Project’s stories convincingly demonstrate that undeniable truth.
If You “Go”:
What: “Heroes” operas
Where: Streaming until December 31
Cost: $15 for all three episodes
Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews performances for the Duluth News Tribune.