Amy Punt

A game of reflections

Gaming-themed opera commissioned and staged by Portland State University places women's voices centerstage

Mirror Game, a new opera commissioned by Portland State University’s Opera program, made its world premiere Nov. 29 in PSU’s Lincoln Hall Studio Theater. The opera is an intriguing effort to bring women into the limelight in a male-dominated tech world.

The historically misogynistic world of opera often casts women characters as victims of culture or the times, or dying of some disease or addiction—though opera directors have lately tried to put more positive spins on such characters as Bess in Porgy and Bess, Madama Butterfly’s Cio-Cio-San, and even “gypsy girl” Carmen, in an attempt to lift them out of the limitations of damsels-in-distress roles. And although I don’t play video games, younger generations tell me there aren’t a helluva lot of strong women characters populating that entertainment genre. So opera in general, and this particular opera’s subject matter, reflect one another.

Mirror Game thankfully does not make heroines of women or total pigs of men – and none of the characters is particularly redeemable. Nor does the opera offer solutions to heal the male-controlled, reputedly sexist Silicon Valley world. But it does give women characters a voice. The opera features six characters (three men and three women), and honestly it’s hard to like any of them much. Selfish self-absorbed entitled Millennials caught up in their phones and selfies, strutting around like they own the world in their high-tops and cropped tops! But it’s easy enough to cheer for the cause: Women deserve a voice – creatively and personally.

The opera was written by librettist Amy Punt, who created The Place Where You Started, which PSU Opera staged four years ago, and award-winning composer Celka Ojakangas, who has not yet reached age 30. The 80-minute opera is lively and engaging, even if you don’t know a thing about gaming – which Mirror Game is about (it has a several truncated love stories, too, and of course, power is a theme). It bursts with video graphics and complex projections and lighting that reflect the gaming world. This is an all-hands-on-deck piece by the PSU Opera crew, which consistently creates shows that far outreach most student operas. Kudos as usual go to veteran stage director Kristine McIntyre for bringing it all together. 

PSU Opera staged the new opera "Mirror Game." Photo by Joe Cantrell.
PSU Opera staged the new opera “Mirror Game.” Photo by Joe Cantrell.

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‘L’amour de Loin’ & ‘The Place Where You Started’: Love from Afar

Contemporary operas show the consequences of idealizing, or stereotyping, strangers

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t hear about the premiere of yet another new opera. Much of the action is in Los Angeles and New York and Chicago and Europe, of course, but signs of vitality are springing up even in places like Fort Worth and Long Beach. After decades of relentlessly retro programming, Oregon too shows recent signs of operatic revitalization: Christopher Corbell’s Cult of Orpheus, which this month revived the Portland composer’s original 2015 opera Viva’s Holiday and has a new opera based on Antigone coming next year; Opera Theater Oregon, which co-produced Viva and is bringing Eugene composer Justin Ralls’s Two Yosemites to Portland in June; Eugene Opera’s recent productions of operas by living composers; and even normally stodgy Portland Opera’s upcoming David Lang one-acts.

‘L’Amour de Loin’ is broadcast in select theaters December 21.

Along with Corbell’s re-Viva, this fall has brought two more contemporary operas to Portland, one internationally renowned, created by a pair of Parisian immigrants, and showing in a few Oregon movie theaters this Wednesday, December 21, the other homegrown. Both seem timely given today’s social concerts, showing the consequences of our perennial tendency to view others through the distorted lenses of our own desires — or fears.

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