Is beautiful music enough to justify the problematic, bizarre and murderous depictions of women and other marginalized people in classic operas? Enter “Opera Through the Looking Glass,” a new series of 60-minute productions that retell the stories of canonical operas by turning them on their heads. Join us this spring for the first “Opera Through the Looking Glass” production: a reimagined Così fan tutte by composer Ryan Oldham, focusing on the Mozart opera that has arguably the most demeaning and disempowering view of women of any the composer wrote.White Snake Projects' 2021-2022 programming is supported in part by grants from the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
White Snake Projects' newest series, “Opera Through the Looking Glass,” is a reexamination of canonical works that have retained their currency despite worldviews and cultural stereotypes that are ill-fitting to the evolving multicultural understanding of the current world. White Snake Project is devoted to performing new work precisely in order to ensure its relevance to a diverse audience, so it is appropriate that its first venture into canonic territory should be in the spirit of critical reassessment. Commissioned and designed to be performed in non-traditional spaces, the reconceived pieces are each 60 minutes long, filled with opera’s greatest hits and sung in English.
I’ve been thinking about a series like “Opera Through the Looking Glass” for years, ever since I realized that my journey to becoming “American” conflicted with the stories in the operatic canon. As an ethnic Chinese woman born and raised in Singapore, I’ve struggled mightily to understand who I am in America, my new homeland, asking myself what I want to be; how to find my voice; how to live a life of true independence of body and spirit, the values embodied by most immigrants’ “idea” of America. All these as I’ve fought to overcome my cultural, societal and familial brainwashing as to what a Chinese woman should be. My awakening to the possibilities of living a full life as a human being coincided with my introduction to the operatic canon. My education in independence coincided with my education in the canon. Inevitably, these paths diverged; as I evolved into an activist, my affinity to the canonical stories receded. Imagine my consternation, when I, as a relative newcomer to the opera industry, began to see the tropes about women and other marginalized communities through new eyes. Surely, we had to reexamine these misogynistic and murderous stories about women, the humiliating depictions of BIPOC individuals? White Snake Projects is finally in a position to do just this: To take a long hard look at the way opera tells stories about women and people of color, to ask questions about when and whether beautiful music is ever sufficient to justify perpetuating these dangerous stereotypes, and whether there is a way to illuminate these issues. “Opera Through the Looking Glass” turns canonical works on their head. We take a fresh, non-European, non-white and non-male perspective on revered works, keeping the best in the music with new scripts which enable us, as audience members, to enjoy the music and ask questions about what we want for our sons and daughters, what we want for our communities, and what aspirations we have for the art form we love.
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