Above: Elise Quagliata and John Moore share the complex role of Hannah in Des Moines Metro Opera’s production of “As One.”
By Michael Morain
If you already know that a man and a woman share the same role in the Des Moines Metro Opera’s upcoming production about a transgender woman, you might assume the baritone sings all the stuff at the beginning, and the mezzo-soprano sings everything at the end. In the program, after all, the characters are called Hannah Before and Hannah After.
But it’s not so simple. There’s a lot of “back and forth as she figures out who she is,” the composer, Laura Kaminsky, said in a phone interview from New York.
The idea for “As One,” which will be performed Nov. 17-19 at Stoner Theater, struck her a few years ago when she read an article about a married heterosexual couple in New Jersey, where the husband was in the process of becoming a woman. Since New Jersey didn’t recognize same-sex marriages at the time, the couple worried whether their union would still legally count.
“It made me think: What are you willing to risk to fulfill yourself?” Kaminsky said. “What does that do to you and your relationships? What does that do to your role in society?”
That story, she said, “needed to be told—and it needed to be sung.”
So Kaminsky enlisted help from writers Kimberly Reed and Pulitzer-winner Mark Campbell to shape the libretto, which traces a fictional person’s life over the course of 15 songs—from a small-town paper route, through sex education class, college, a violent assault and, eventually, a sense of peace.
The show lit up the opera world when it premiered in 2014 and will be staged here with company favorites Elise Quagliata and John Moore under the direction of Kristine McIntyre. A string quartet will accompany the two singers, and video projections will set the scene.
The show is produced in partnership with the nonprofits One Iowa and Transformations Iowa in the run-up to the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance on Monday, Nov. 20.
The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17-18 and 2 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Civic Center’s Stoner Theater. Tickets are $40 and are available here.