Friday, September 29, 2023

Opera Alert! Dark Sisters at Journey North

Quick! Opera fans, particularly fans of contemporary opera, get your tickets to Journey North Opera Co.'s production of Nico Muhly's Dark Sisters, It's only playing September 28 through October 1 at the Southern Theater, so this is officially an opera emergency. 

Cast of Dark Sisters.
Photo by Steve Campbell at
Loco/FX Photography

We'll make this fast: Dark Sisters premiered in 2011 and provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of women living in a polygamous compound who are reeling from a raid in which the government has taken away their children after accusations of abuse. More details:

DARK SISTERS follows one woman’s dangerous attempt to escape her life as a member of the FLDS Church (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints), a sect that split from mainstream Mormonism in the early 20th Century largely because of the LDS Church’s renunciation of polygamy. The male founders of the Mormon faith (Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, chief among them) loom large in American history; Dark Sisters puts the women front and center. (Journey North Opera Co. website)

Dark Sisters is written by Nico Muhly, a prolific American contemporary classical music composer and arranger who has a fascinating career with a wide range of collaborators from Philip Glass and Metropolitan Opera to Bjork and Glen Hansard. The music is gorgeous and surprisingly melodic for a contemporary opera. Both the libretto by Stephen Karam (The Humans) and the music give each of the women a distinct voice beyond their recurrent refrain and reminder to "Keep Sweet."

Cast of Dark Sisters.
Photo by Steve Campbell at
Loco/FX Photography

The opera is sung in English, with creatively designed supertitles to help distinguish the interwoven vocal lines right from the beginning, as each woman laments the loss of her children, and we see the names behind them. And speaking of those interwoven vocal lines ... There is nothing like beautiful unamplified voices singing in an intimate space and accompanied by a wonderful 13-piece orchestra conducted by Brian Dowdy.

A deceptively simple set, the women's uniformly conservative clothing, and the decayed gentility of the Southern Theater proscenium creates a timeless feel. Director Amanda Carlson keeps the focus on the women as a group and individually, moving the characters around the stage in formations that suggest the rigidity of their community. Although all of the performances are wonderful and the voices astounding, we want to call out Meagan Seubert, who played Eliza at the final dress rehearsal we attended, for her wonderful expressiveness, giving hints from the start of her character's discomfort with the status quo. Her early duet with her daughter Lucinda (Anna Beth Baker) was particularly moving.  

If you need another reason to rush out and see this opera, Journey North Opera Co. is a "woman-led company striving for gender parity in a male-dominated field, prioritizing the performance of works by and the hiring of artists who identify as women, as well as those identifying as LGBTQIA2S+." (Journey North Opera Co. website) 

Tell your friends! And happy opera-going!