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BWW Review: P R I S M at Los Angeles Opera

Sexual Assault and its Effect on the Victim's Mind

BWW Review: P R I S M at Los Angeles Opera

On January 28, 2021, Los Angeles Opera streamed a newly filmed version of Roxie Perkins and Ellen Reid's Pulitzer Prize-winning opera p r i s m. Perkins is a Los Angeles based writer and director who has produced a diverse body of work in theater, on television, and on the Internet. Reid works in New York City and Los Angeles composing music for films, television, and art installations.

p r i s m, an operatic tapestry, tells of the psychological dreams, desires and struggles of Bibi, a sexual assault survivor. Her mother. Lumee, who rejects the trappings of motherhood, says she only left Bibi alone for a few minutes. Lumee tries to subjugate Bibi with prayers and medicine by insisting that her legs are turning blue and the bones are dissolving. Act II shows the audience the real Lumee as opposed to Bibi's hopes and dreams seen in act I. In act III Bibi begins to consider leading a life apart from her mother. Her actions show us she is becoming ready to brave the outside world. She has matured, and as she leaves the cube, we understand she now has the courage to make her own way in life. Director James Darrah and choreographer Chris Emile kept the story moving along briskly and every moment offers something of interest as Pablo Santiago-Brandwein's lighting changes mirror Bibi's fragmented thoughts.

Scenic Designer Adam Rigg put a great deal of color and exquisite decor in the cube or room of Acts I and III. The latter in particular was quite different from the staged version we saw in 2018. There were piles of clothes in both cases, but from a distance the film set has the look of a medieval Tuscan landscape. Even close up, Rigg's decorative colors and shapes were no longer mere piles of clothes when Santiago-Brandwein bathed them with atmospheric colored light.

Dancers Tatiana Barber, Charbel Rohayem, Gigi Todisco, and Choreographer Chris Emile were strong additions to the scene as they writhed while holding up the horizontal Bibi to show rape and the result of her wish to forget.

The role of Bibi calls for a wide tonal and dynamic range, dramatic acting, and lifts high above the stage. Anna Schubert filled the bill perfectly. As Lumee, Rebecca Jo Loeb sang with less drama and her music was more melodic than Bibi's. p r i s m is Reid's first opera and her vocal writing may become more idiomatic as time goes on. Listening to Reid's well integrated 14-piece ensemble, Novus NY, play this work for a second time, I heard tonal colors reminiscent of early and mid-twentieth century classics such as Claude Debussy's Pelleas and Melisande, Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, Montemezzi's L'Amore dei Tre Re (The Love of Three Kings), Puccini's Il Tabarro (The Cloak), Richard Strauss's Elektra, and Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow), as well as Poulenc's The Dialogues of the Carmelites. These colors blended into the complexity of Reid's own distinctive sonorities.

Reid offers a broad spectrum of musical styles couched in a highly polished orchestration and she illustrates various states of Bibi's mind with rhythmic and stylistic variations. Visiting p r i s m again in film format gives me the chance to form a deeper impression of this work of art. Popular because live performances are not possible due to COVID-19, opera as film is becoming a way of presenting the art with close-up intensity that cannot be achieved when the closest member of the audience is across a wide orchestra pit from the stage. Hopefully when live opera is again in theaters, we will also be able to continue to enjoy opera online at home.

Photo courtesy of L A Opera.


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From This Author Maria Nockin