I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams, the newest opera from creator and librettist Cerise Jacobs, with a score by composer Jorge Sosa, premieres September 20-22 on the Robert J. Orchard Stage of Boston’s Emerson Paramount Theater.
With a cast carefully chosen to reflect the ethnicities of the characters and to bring to the project a wide variety of perspectives on the immigrant experience, the opera tells the story of a Mexican immigrant, Rosa, a “dreamer” jailed for her activism who is threatened with deportation, and the relationship she develops with her attorney, Singa, an ethnically Chinese immigrant from Indonesia. Jacobs and Sosa bring to the project first-hand experience as immigrants from Singapore and Mexico respectively, and both the topic and an intentionally diverse, mostly female cast and creative team reflect the ambition of Jacobs and her production company, White Snake Projects, to integrate original opera with social activism. After last fall’s premiere of the video game opera PermaDeath, her “most technologically ambitious production to date” (Boston Globe), the new opera represents an opportunity to scale back the technical sophistication of recent productions in favor of a subject of critical and increasing relevance to the entire world. Tickets for I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams are on sale now and can be purchased here.
The creative team for Dreamer includes Music Director Maria Sensi Sellner, the founder as well as Artistic and General Director of the “multi-modal performing arts company” Resonance Works Pittsburgh and the first three-time winner of the American Prize for Opera Conducting. She recently made her debut with the Dallas Opera Orchestra as one of six women chosen from around the world to participate in the company’s Hart Institute for Women Conductors. Directing Dreamer is stage director, actor and writer Elena Araoz, who has been acclaimed for productions ranging from experimental theater to Shakespeare and praised by Time Out New York for “deep wells of imagination.” About her approach to the opera, Araoz explains:
“There are two major storytelling threads that intersect in this piece. On the one hand there is the cold institutionalism illustrated by the set, which defines the present reality of the two main characters, one of them jailed for her activism and threatened by deportation, and the other her court-appointed attorney, caught between ambitious Americanism and conservative expectations from her native culture. The two women have different relationships to their adopted country, yet through the course of the opera we discover how much they have in common. The other strand is the dreams of a better life, about escaping cycles of violence and poverty. Even more, it’s about the enormous potential of these immigrant women and the contributions they make to our society. The connection the two women establish transcends the reality of the environment and allows them to inspire one another. Their common bond as “dreamers” is also brought to life by the child soloists in the opera who portray their younger selves. The children are always present in the stage world of the prison, bringing to mind the appalling stories of immigrant children separated from their parents at the U.S. border and held in detention centers without comfort or resources. The children in the opera embody the memory of that time in both women’s lives when their hopes for the future were undiminished by the reality of borders and boundaries.”
Mezzo-soprano Carla López-Speziale—recognized for her “beautiful, warm voice with a secure and soft top and a powerful low register” (Basler Landschaftszeitung)—sings the role of Rosa, with soprano Helen Zhibing Huang, who participated in the development of Jacobs’s previous projects REV. 23 and Gilgamesh, as Singa. Kirsten Chambers puts her “arresting, gleaming soprano” (Opera News) in the service of the three remaining adult characters: Mother, Gangster and Prosecutor. Isis Contreras Perez portrays Rosa as a child, and Amy Li is the child Singa. Sosa’s music draws on an eclectic range of influences, including folk and traditional music from around the globe, chant and early vocal polyphony, Afro-Latin rhythms, and jazz harmonies. ICON magazine recently characterized his work as “not music to accompany afternoon tea with Mom; it’s more along the lines of sending your consciousness on the Cosmic Turnpike where the exit ramps are never permanent. Eerie, haunting, dreamlike, at times nightmarish—and highly recommended.” A preview video for Dreamer can be seen here.
In conjunction with the premiere, White Snake Projects has launched the new multi-year community engagement initiative Sing Out Strong, which commissions the creation of new songs on themes arising from the company’s mainstage operas. Two free public performances of Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices have already taken place, and another is upcoming at WBUR’s CitySpace. The concert and a panel discussion on immigration will take place on a live podcast. Finally, Immigrant Voices will serve as a mainstage prologue to I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams at the Emerson Paramount Theater.
Last season’s production of the video game opera PermaDeath added to the consistent track record of sensational, critically acclaimed productions that Jacobs and White Snake Projects have developed in Boston. The Boston Classical Review praised Jacobs’s “slick libretto” that “tells a convincing and engaging tale of friendship and loss.” Opera News found the opera “an exciting new work brimming with new ideas and possibilities,” declaring that “a powerful synergy arises from combining videogame animation with opera” and finding Dan Visconti’s score “physical, infectious, even saucy.” Calling PermaDeath “a vehicle for inventive music and staging,” the Boston Musical Intelligencer added that “Visconti’s setting of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43… is a standalone masterpiece.” Highlights from the world premiere of PermaDeath can be seen here.
About White Snake Projects
White Snake Projects brings diverse, timely and relevant opera, based on original stories by Cerise Jacobs, to Boston’s main stages. Like the legendary White Snake demon who becomes human to live intensely, White Snake Projects transforms present-day experience into passionate new opera made in America. The company believes there is no better way to bridge the chasms of race, national origin and gender than through a reimagined art form combining cutting edge technology, music, theater, and dance. This ambitious strategy kicked off with the Ouroboros Trilogy – a trio of grand operas including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Madame White Snake – in September 2016, and has continued with REV. 23 (2017), PermaDeath (2018), and I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams (2019).