Resonance Works Brings New Opera To Pittsburgh In 2020-2021 Season

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On October 23 & 25, RESONANCE WORKS will open its 2020-2021 season with I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams at the New Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh's North Side.

A collaboration between composer Jorge Sosa and creator and librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs, this acclaimed new opera champions the near perpetual struggles of immigrants and the often overlooked complexities of their stories. Building on its reputation for bringing the most important new American music to Pittsburgh audiences, Resonance Works becomes only the second company to present this celebrated new work. Dreamer held its world premiere in Boston in September 2019 under the auspices of Jacobs' White Snake Projects, a company in the vanguard of developing new American opera. Having been involved in this exciting project since 2018, Resonance Works' Artistic Director Maria Sensi Sellner was a part of the development and workshop of the opera, and subsequently conducted the world premiere. As such, Resonance Works' upcoming production will bring many of the original artists to Pittsburgh while featuring the Pittsburgh Girls Choir as the ensemble.

The story of the opera concerns an undocumented Mexican immigrant named Rosa, a "dreamer" who is waiting in jail before being deported, and the relationship she develops with her court-appointed attorney Singa, an ethnically Chinese immigrant from Indonesia. With parallels to the varied narratives of immigration explored in Resonance Work's 2019 season opener, the national anthems, I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams harmonizes profoundly with the multi-ethnic tapestry that defines Western Pennsylvania and the industrial history of Pittsburgh in particular.
Of the world premiere in Boston, I Care If You Listen (.com) remarked that "Jorge Sosa and Cerise Lim Jacobs' collaboration was enormously successful, as their closeness to the subject matter and empathetic nature illuminated the entirety of the work," while the Boston Globe offered, "Jacobs's collaboration with Mexican-born composer Jorge Sosa might be White Snake's least logistically complex affair to date. It's also the best."

Based in New York City, Mexican-born composer Jorge Sosa is Chairperson of the Music Department at Molloy College. Sosa works in a wide range of styles, from electronic music to opera, with eclectic influences that include folk and traditional music, chant and early vocal polyphony, Afro-Latin rhythms, and jazz harmonies.

Cerise Lim Jacobs was born and raised in Singapore while it was still a British colony. She left her native country with her family in the early 70s as the threat to ethnic Chinese mounted throughout southeast Asia. While her family settled in Australia, she continued on to England and then Canada before finally settling in the U.S. Before she turned to writing opera librettos, Jacobs enjoyed a successful career as a litigator, so Dreamer marks her most personal and autobiographical story to date.
In 2017, while Sosa and Jacobs were in the midst of developing a different project, the national conversation around immigration in the U.S. began to take center stage as the DACA program came under serious threat. Sharing a common identity as immigrants, they decided to put that project aside and shifted their priority to a new piece that would address the fast-growing crisis. In creating this important work, Sosa and Jacobs realized that their personal experiences with immigration, while parallel in many ways, were also distinctly unique and varied. Within the opera, therefore, Jacobs' angle explores the myth of the "model minority" that has inculcated the experience of those swept up in the Asian diaspora while Sosa's perspective champions his passion to dispel the negative stereotypes of Mexicans.
In Jacobs' words: "Every immigrant has to remake themselves as they discover that there is no way back, no matter how uncomfortable it is to move forward in a strange land. In the course of remaking ourselves, we take the best values that our new homeland has to offer. I've learned so much from my attempts to make America my home, about transformation, about openness, about dislocation. Dreamer is one way I can give back."

Musically, Sosa's score for Dreamer is a mosaic of styles reflecting the intersection of cultures in the story. He draws on folk music from Asia and Mexico, integrating with elements of jazz and classical music and even iconic quotes from West Side Story, as filtered through Ruben Blades's "Mack the Knife"-inspired song, "Pedro Navaja." Also central to the score of Dreamer are the voices of children. At a time when the plight of immigrant children has become increasingly politicized, the opera allows the voices of the children themselves to be heard. Resonance Works' production will feature the Pittsburgh Girls Choir, and auditions will be held later this spring for the featured roles of young Singa and young Rosa.

The all-female cast has been carefully chosen not only to reflect the ethnicities of the characters but to bring to the project a wide variety of perspectives on the immigrant experience, as well as an intentionally diverse, mostly female production staff. Chinese-born soprano Helen Zhibing Huang will reprise her role as Singa in the Pittsburgh production. An emerging young artist with a career across several continents, Huang's recent career highlights include a debut this season with Deutsche Oper Berlin. Stage director Elena Araoz, who directs theater and opera internationally as well as serving on the faculty at Princeton University, will also return at the helm of the production she originated in Boston.

New to the Pittsburgh premiere will be Mexican-American mezzo-soprano Maria Lopez in the role of Rosa. Since her 2015 Resonance Works performances in Flamenco y Tango, Maria has made a number of national and international debuts including the Kennedy Center and at the Teatr Muzyczny in Poznań, Poland. She can also be heard in independent films and major motion pictures (including Disney/Pixar's COCO). Soprano Natalie Polito, noted for her "captivating" performances in Resonance Works' productions of Rusalka and Falstaff will also join the cast to take on the multiple roles of Mother, Gangster and Prosecutor.

In tandem with this landmark production, Resonance Works will build upon the community project initiated by White Snake Projects in Boston called "Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices," for which composers and writers were commissioned to create songs inspired by the immigrant experience. Free concerts of these songs will take place in several area communities in the weeks leading up to the opera. In addition to the new set of SOS songs commissioned for the Pittsburgh region, these concerts will also include a selection from the songs previously presented in Boston, thus adding to a growing songbook of immigrant stories. Details for Resonance Works' call for writers and composers can be found on the company's website.


Tickets for this special opening production of Resonance Works' 8th season will go on sale on March 5 at https://www.resonanceworks.org/dreamer



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