Originally commissioned and produced by the Queer Arts Festival, opera explores forbidden love in a nation where homosexuality is banned.
BY JANET SMITH, STIR VANCOUVER
A PIONEERING OPERA about oppression and the LGBTQSIA+ community is set to see its American premiere.
Vancouver composer, pianist, and conductor Leslie Uyeda’s groundbreaking When the Sun Comes Out, with a libretto by Vancouver poet Rachel Rose, opens at the Portland Opera on January 28.
When The Sun Comes Out was composed between 2011 and 2012 as a commission for the Vancouver Queer Arts Festival, where it premiered in 2013, followed by performances in Toronto in 2014. It was billed at the time as “Canada’s first lesbian opera”.
The opera is a poetic love story following resistance against a fictional state that oppresses lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. It centres on the rebellious Solana and her beloved Lilah, who is now a wife and mother; together, they fight for a new future, even as their secret romance is threatened by Lilah’s unpredictable husband, Javan.
The live Portland production, staged at the Hampton Opera Center, features a cast that includes Sandra Piques Eddy, Cree Carrico, and Michael Parham, under conductor Maria Sensi Sellner and director Alison Moritz. The music comes courtesy of a quintet of Portland Opera Orchestra musicians, featuring violin, cello, flute, clarinet, and piano. The piece also integrates original dance by Portland’s Shaun Keylock Company.
At the time of the premiere here, Uyeda, a onetime chorus director for Vancouver Opera, revealed she had long dreamed of writing a lesbian opera in a genre that often centres on heterosexual love stories. Both she and the poet she found to create the libretto are queer artists. (Rose was Vancouver’s Poet Laureate from 2014 to 2017.)
Reflecting on the ongoing relevance of the piece in the American-premiere announcement yesterday, Lesie Uyeda said, “Written before social movements that began in the United States such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, and before the tragedy in Orlando, I’ve asked myself how different the opera might be if it had been written within the last two or three years.
“What is the difference between what I wanted to say then and what I would say now? Sadly, I think that the issues the opera was talking about ten years ago are more than relevant today. For this reason, I am so grateful to Portland Opera for including When The Sun Comes Out in their 2021-2022 season.”