Review: New York Becomes HOMETOWN to Kaminsky-Reed Opera About ICE Raid on Slaughterhouse in Iowa

HOMETOWN TO THE WORLD, a chamber opera for three solo voices, chamber ensemble and chorus, seems more timely than ever.

By: Nov. 10, 2022
Review: New York Becomes HOMETOWN to Kaminsky-Reed Opera About ICE Raid on Slaughterhouse in Iowa
Gaissert, Kelly and Duarte. Photo: Sachyn Mital

HOMETOWN TO THE WORLD--the 70-minute contemporary chamber opera by Laura Kaminsky and Kimberly Reed about the aftermath of a 2008 raid by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on a slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa--is about as far from the Midwest of Meredith Willson's THE MUSIC MAN imaginable.

True, they both take place in Iowa and HOMETOWN's local premiere at The Town Hall last weekend was performed just a few blocks away from the Winter Garden Theatre, where the current revival of the classic Broadway musical is playing. But that's about as close as they get (though the Iowans in Willson's musical have some prejudices of their own, mild by comparison and obviously handled quite differently).

Actually, HOMETOWN seemed closer to Verdi's DON CARLO being performed these days at the Met, proving that the most heinous racism, intolerance and government interference never seem to go out of style (see: our country today)--not as long as the indignities foisted on the population in the name of security and public safety continue. In this case, the piece focuses on the work of ICE--created to protect America from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration, by enforcing more than 400 federal statutes. Using these parameters, their raid here would be laughable--if its outcome weren't so horrifying for those affected.

Review: New York Becomes HOMETOWN to Kaminsky-Reed Opera About ICE Raid on Slaughterhouse in Iowa
Duarte and Kelly. Photo: Sachyn Mital

HOMETOWN, directed fluidly by Kristine McIntyre, brings the story to life through Kaminsky's beautifully modulated and distinctive music and Reed's keen observation and storytelling skills, with its cast of three singers plus chorus and the Sybarite5 chamber ensemble under conductor Tania Leon. It concentrates on the aftermath of the raid on the community as embodied by a trio of fictional protagonists who represent the groups affected by the incident.

The three soloists bring out the best in Kaminsky's score: First, Abraham Fleischman (the mellow baritone Michael Kelly), representing the group of Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn who created a booming business in Postville preparing kosher meat. Then, Linda Morales (the lush mezzo Cecilia Duarte), representing the Central Americans who illegally worked in the factory (there were others, from Eastern Europe and other areas), having been allowed to stay behind in the US when her husband and son were deported because of her American-born infant. These two bond as outsiders in the community and get some of Kaminsky's most potent music ("Blood" and "Anklet, Ringlet").

Finally, there's Linda Larsen (the compelling mezzo Blythe Gaissert), among the Scandinavian descendants in the farming community, who is trying to save her town from ruin after the ICE raid through its annual "Ag(riculture) Days" event. She also runs the local food bank, which gives her an opportunity to interact dramatically with Morales, as she finds only "Cans of Corn"--ironic in an area where the fresh vegetable is abundantly available.

They are backed up by outstanding work by a pair of choruses from two of New York's most distinguished high schools, Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts and the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, who are entrusted with choral refrains from Emma Lazarus' poem, "The New Colossus."

The chamber opera was commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera as part of a consortium of seven companies. (It was a co-commission with Hawai'i Opera Theatre.) Their "Opera For All Voices" initiative produces new American opera works that are flexible in scope and scale. In this case, from what I understand, Kaminsky had a much larger-scale work in mind, but it was considered too big for the program and it consequently ended up being created on a much-reduced size, which, to me, was unfortunate.

Although the opera starts out with visuals of the raid, its concentration on the aftermath and the specific effects on the people involved, I felt, missed some dramatic opportunities. Yes, the result is certainly more intimate and the stories of individuals certainly compelling, but the brutal attack of the ICE raid would certainly have added tension to the piece that I think might have been a stunning addition.

Nevertheless, HOMETOWN TO THE WORLD helps keep alive a story worth remembering--and perhaps will open a few minds to some of the brutality that masks itself as "law and order."