I discovered City of Ashes by Evan Fein and Emily Anderson a few years ago after meeting the Knoxville local librettist, Emily Anderson. City of Ashes was composed in 2012 for an opera company in France called Opera de Poche. Emily had shared with me several of her operas, and also written a libretto for Follow Suit, and Shadowlight for Marble City Opera, so when Jim Garvey at the Church of the Ascension, and Emily asked me if we would be interested in producing City of Ashes as a part of the Friends of Music and the Arts program, it seemed like a perfect fit.
Marble City Opera produced the US premiere of City of Ashes as a part of the Friends of Music and Arts program at the Church of the Ascension in September 2019. It opened our most recent season. The opera is about two women during the Second World War, Lotte and Lili. They find themselves stranded in Paris occupied by the former Third Reich. "Faced with their own guilt and unspeakable atrocities committed by the occupying Russian forces, the two women discover the price of survival." - opera synopsis by Emily Anderson.
This moving opera has three written characters, a soprano, baritone, and mezzo-soprano, in our production played by April Martin, Brent Hetherington, and Aubrey Odle. The opera only currently has a piano accompaniment which was played by MCO's music director, Brandon Coffer. Stage Director, Marya Barry cleverly directed this opera making it more intense than its original production by adding two silent characters to depict the Russian Soldiers, who are so often described and encountered by the singers in this opera. These silent roles that were added were masterfully played by Logan Campbell and Derek Stull. The atrocities of rape were much more visceral because of these additional characters added to the production, but was also handled with great care, and depicted in almost a form of modern dance.
Staging the opera in the Church of Ascensions main sanctuary did pose some interesting challenges, as they have an extremely large marble alter that can not be moved from the center of the stage, nor be used for any prop, or as a scenic element. Fortunately, once again director Barry had a way to creatively stage the opera so that the large alter at center stage somehow didn't obstruct from the story telling of her staging.
To add to the story telling we also used projections of paintings by Barry Span. These projections were also used in the original production, however, we did some slight adjustment of placement in the score for each of the visual effects. Lighting by Jeff Pless also immensely helped the story telling.
This dramatic opera could be quite an emotional journey for the actors and audience, but fortunately Evan Fein's composition allowed for a moment of lightness during the breakfast trio. This is one of my favorite moments of the opera, especially with stage director, Barry's cheerful staging.
Thank you for joining us again this week for our journey looking at opera's from the 21st century that we have produced. We hope you'll stay tuned for more over the next few weeks!