Despite the oft-articulated desire for a return to "normal," the events of 2020-21 clearly have inspired many to consider that normal might not be what they want after all.
That certainly seems to be the case with Minnesota Opera.
Judging from the first two presentations of its new season, the company would like opera lovers to consider alternate paths. Its "Opera Afuera" event at Allianz Field opened ears to the idea of tango and mariachi music in opera. Now the company is inviting you to head back to your computer and get intimate with a deeply involving new opera on film, "Interstate."
Inspired by the correspondence between serial killer Aileen Wuornos and her childhood friend Dawn Botkins, "Interstate" asks audiences to re-examine how women are customarily presented in opera, specifically the many who, through modern eyes, could be characterized as sex workers.
Available free on demand through Oct. 23 at mnopera.org, "Interstate" strips away any glamour from the profession of prostitution and takes us inside the life of an abused child who grew into an abused and abusing adult. It's also a moving portrayal of a bond re-forged between two women as it recounts in heartbreaking fashion what drove them apart.
Jennifer Cresswell and Kathleen Kelly developed the idea for "Interstate" together, writing the libretto and asking composer Kamala Sankaram to write the score. Now Cresswell and Kelly are premiering the work in Minnesota Opera's presentation, portraying the two central characters, Olivia and Diane.
Originally conceived as a staged performance, Tonya McKinny's gripping 50-minute film finds the two protagonists singing to the camera as they unspool the epistolary tale. What could have been staged as two women singing from separate rooms — one a prison cell — expands the setting with images of the two in early adolescence, underlining the sadness of Olivia's youth.
The sound world of "Interstate" is more reminiscent of a song cycle than an opera, in that the only instrumentation is the piano that Kelly plays while singing and speaking her lines, quite an accomplishment in itself.
Sankaram's score expertly conveys the mood of their exchanges, particularly when they grow more anxious and argumentative. Unlike many operas, this is one in which the libretto came first, and Sankaram tailors the music to fit the text, one mood segueing smoothly into another.
When she's not expressing herself at the piano, Kelly can seem a bit stiff and emotionless as Diane, her middle-class life presented as a contrast to the fury and flamboyance of her imprisoned counterpart.
As Olivia, Cresswell crafts a tour de force as both singer and actor, pulling viewers into her world of pain and defiance. The role calls for exceptional range, both vocally and dramatically, and Cresswell creates a character who will likely stay with you long after the closing credits.
Wuornos also inspired the central character in the film "Monster," for which Charlize Theron won a Best Actress Oscar. But "Interstate" is more a sad origin story than a lurid tale of murder. It's about the consequences of abandonment, of how a life on the road became one that went off the rails. The kind of life that doesn't find its way into opera, but now has, thanks to Minnesota Opera's powerful production.
Rob Hubbard is a freelance Twin Cities classical music writer. email@example.com.