Photo above by Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh, PA… Pittsburgh Opera continues its 75th anniversary season with Nico Muhly’s DARK SISTERS, a new production of a very new opera exploring issues ripped from the headlines and created by a thirty-something composer. The first work in Pittsburgh Opera’s American Opera Series,* DARK SISTERS stars the Resident Artists and is on stage at CAPA Theater January 25 – February 2.
Exploring issues of suppressed individuality and subservient women’s roles, the opera uses episodes from the media – most recently the 2004 raid on FLDS leader Warren Jeffs’s compound in West Texas – to tell the story of the women’s suffering, and how one woman tries to escape. Premiered in 2012, DARK SISTERS revolves around sister-wife Eliza, who has a profound self-discovery after the world comes to the gates of her family’s complex, run by The Prophet. During an appearance on national television to defend her way of life, Eliza makes a dramatic confession, and her world falls into chaos. Resolving to make her own way in the world, she faces the consequences of leaving everything she has ever known.
Pittsburgh Opera’s DARK SISTERS features Resident Artists in the roles of the sister-wives: Jasmine Muhammad is the rebellious Eliza; Meredith Lustig is the lovesick Zina; Nicole Rodin is the troubled Ruth; Samantha Korbey is Presendia; and former Resident Artist Alexandra Loutsion (Rinaldo, 2011) is Almera. Resident Artist Joseph Barron takes the dual role of The Prophet and the newscaster King. Rebecca Belczyk (The Magic Flute, 2013) portrays Eliza’s daughter Lucinda. Resident Artist George Cederquist is the stage director for DARK SISTERS. Head of Music Glenn Lewis conducts the Pittsburgh Opera Orchestra. Composer Nico Muhly is expected to attend the opening night performance.
* Pittsburgh Opera’s American Opera Series is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and includes DARK SISTERS, PAUL’S CASE (Feb. 22 – Mar. 2) and ORPHÉE (Apr. 26 – May 4).
Facts about the opera and the composer
DARK SISTERS premiered in 2012 at Gotham Chamber Opera in New York City, and was co-produced and co-commissioned by Opera Philadelphia.
Nico Muhly, a 32 year-old “wunderkind” (Huffington Post) who defies convention and definitions, has worked with Philip Glass, Björk, Benjamin Millepied, and Grizzly Bear. He was recently featured on the cover of Opera News, in advance of the premiere of his Two Boys at The Met. Mr. Muhly composes film scores (The Reader, Joshua, Choking Man), liturgical music (an Our Father, a Nunc Dimittis, a setting of Psalm 139), and scored the ballet From Here on Out with Millepied for American Ballet Theater. Most recently, he appeared at New York City’s Le Poisson Rouge with violinist Pekka Kuuisto; the featured piece was a Bach Partita with other pieces interspersed between the original piece’s movements.
In October 2013, Mr. Muhly’s opera Two Boys premiered at The Metropolitan Opera, with former Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Juan José de León in the cast. The opera revolves around a detective investigating a murder of a teenager that leads her to a trail of clues on the Internet.
Nico Muhly has been researching the history of the Church of Latter Day Saints for many years. “I read the diaries of some of the wives of Brigham Young; you think you could be reading something from the Old Testament or from today. Similarly, once you get in the world of what constitutes marriage, it was always political, and about property, land. Marriage for love was a Victorian construct.”
Nico Muhly has been quoted as saying that “I can’t think of one opera that isn’t political in some way. When you look at Rameau, Handel, Mozart, they were all looking at the world around them socially and politically. [Mozart’s] Cosi fan tutte is an incredibly political opera. Right now there is a flare-up of interest about Mormonism, but the politics and discussions around it aren’t new.”
The story, in brief
At a polygamist compound in the American Southwest, five mothers cry out in despair. State officials have just raided their homes and removed their children, under the suspicion that minors are being abused and forced to marry. The husband of the five women, a professed Prophet, discloses that he has received a revelation. He must journey into the desert, where he will receive guidance that will ensure the return of their children. The Prophet instructs his wives to “keep sweet” while he is away, explaining that total obedience is necessary to ensure their salvation and the safe return of their children.
Eliza, the fourth wife, has visions of her only child, Lucinda. She remembers her wedding: she was 16, afraid, an unwilling bride. Eliza does not want her daughter to suffer the same fate, but cannot imagine how they could ever leave this life. As night slowly turns to day, Eliza passes the time with her sister-wives. Almera is haunted by dreams of her mother and grandmother, while Presendia and Zina work diligently to pass the time, longing for their husband’s return. Ruth is tormented by mental illness and the memory of her two sons, both of whom died tragically.
Ruth discovers a letter in the Prophet’s study and gives it to Eliza: the letter voices Lucinda’s concerns about being promised to a much older man. Eliza is shocked to learn that her daughter would be promised so soon, and resolves to leave the compound. The Prophet returns, and Eliza convinces him to spend the night with her. She needs his full trust so that she can travel with him the next day and enact a plan to share her own message with the world. Alone in their bedrooms, the other women seethe with jealousy, sadness and longing.
The next day, television personality King interviews the women via satellite. The women are careful to stay on message. Afraid and distraught, Ruth suffers a breakdown during the interview. Although paralyzed with fear, the women continue with the show.
Eliza, afraid that she may not have the courage to speak out, suddenly explodes with the announcement that she was indeed married underage. She also seizes the opportunity to speak to her daughter – she looks into the camera and begs Lucinda to have faith, and to relays her own divine message: “Don’t be afraid of what lies beyond the sharp cliffs, the red earth – blaze a trail beyond the canyons! This is my hope for you, Sisters of Zion! I promise you, kind hearts beat for all of us in the outside world!”
Chaos erupts. Eliza’s sister-wives cannot believe she would betray them. Later that night, Ruth sits atop the mesa near the compound, under a starlit sky. Praying for relief from her pain, and longing to be with her two children in heaven, she jumps to her death.
Back at the compound, a few days later, Ruth is buried. The children have been returned to the ranch. Eliza comes to the gate of the compound and is shunned by the other women. Lucinda approaches her mother, furious – she is sickened that Eliza lost her faith and will not gain eternal salvation. Lucinda refuses to leave with her mother. Eliza pledges that she will always be waiting for Lucinda, and will always love her. Heartbroken, she walks away from the compound and into the unknown.
Tickets to DARK SISTERS are $50, with all performances at CAPA Theater, 9th Street and Ft. Duquesne Blvd., Downtown Pittsburgh. For additional information, videos, photos, musical samples, cast biographies, and the full story of DARK SISTERS, visit www.pittsburghopera.org. To purchase tickets, call 412-456-6666 or visit www.pittsburghopera.org.
The 2013-14 Pittsburgh Opera season is generously supported by PNC.
American Eagle Outfitters is the Friday Night Sponsor.
Dark Sisters is generously sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Filstrup.
The National Endowment for the Arts provides project support for Pittsburgh Opera’s 2014 American Opera Series.
Giant Eagle Foundation is the Resident Artist Program Sponsor.
WQED is a media sponsor for the 2013-14 Pittsburgh Opera season.
WYEP and WESA are media sponsors for Dark Sisters.
Cast and Artistic Team (cast is listed in order of vocal appearance)
Zina Meredith Lustig *
Presendia Samantha Korbey *
Almera Alexandra Loutsion **
Ruth Nicole Rodin *
Eliza Jasmine Muhammad *
Prophet/King Joseph Barron *
Lucinda Rebecca Belczyk
Conductor Glenn Lewis
Director George Cederquist *
Set Designer Dan Daly
Costume Designer Antonia West
Associate Coach/Pianist James Lesniak
Hair & Makeup Designer James Geier
DARK SISTERS is a new production by Pittsburgh Opera.
+ Pittsburgh Opera debut
Tickets for all performances of DARK SISTERS are $50. Group and subscriber discounts are available. For tickets, call (412) 456-6666 or visit www.pittsburghopera.org. For discounted group tickets (6 or more), contact Randy Adams at 412-281-0912, x 213.
Brown Bag Concert
Saturday, January 11 – 12:00 p.m.
These casual, one-hour concerts feature our Resident Artists in the George R. White Opera Studio at Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters. January’s Brown Bag concert features an All-American program. Guests can meet the performers after the concert. Free and open to the public; no RSVP required. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. For more information, call (412) 281-0912 or visit www.pittsburghopera.org
Opera Up Close: DARK SISTERS
Sunday, January 12 – 2:00 p.m.
An in-depth look at the music and story of Nico Muhly’s DARK SISTERS with singers and directors from the production, in the George R. White Opera Studio at Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters. Panelists include Resident Artist Jasmine Muhammad; stage director, Resident Artist George Cederquist; conductor Glenn Lewis; and Director of Artistic Operations Bill Powers. Admission is $5; the event is free to members of FRIENDS of Pittsburgh Opera and donors at $50 and above. For more information, visit www.pittsburghopera.org.
DARK SISTERS Previews on WQED-FM 89.3 and WQED.ORG
Saturday, January 18 – 1:00 p.m.; Friday, January 24 – 7:00 p.m.
Hosted by WQED’s Stephen Baum, and broadcast over the airwaves as well as the WQED website, the DARK SISTERS preview gives listeners an engaging introduction to the singers, music and story of the opera. For more information, visit www.pittsburghopera.org.
CAPA Theater Black Box
Ticketholders are invited to attend a Pre-Opera Talk on DARK SISTERS one hour before each performance’s curtain in the Black Box at CAPA Theater. Learn about the composer and the story of the opera. Free to all ticketholders.
Audio Description: DARK SISTERS
Tuesday, January 28
Ticketholders with visual impairments are invited to use Pittsburgh Opera’s Audio Description service at our Tuesday performances. Trained volunteers describe the scenery, costumes, and stage action via headphones. Those wishing to use Audio Description should reserve seats to the Tuesday, January 28 performance: call Randy Adams at 412-281-0912, ext. 213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Braille and large-print opera programs are also available in the lobby.
Tuesday, January 28
Immediately following the opera, in the CAPA Theater Black Box
Ticketholders for the Tuesday, January 28 performance of DARK SISTERS are invited to gather in the Black Box immediately following the performance for interviews with General Director Christopher Hahn and the stars of the opera. This event is free to all Tuesday performance ticketholders.