KAMINSKY As One
This is really rather good. Styled a chamber opera, As One (2014) is also a sequence of 15 songs (with instrumental introduction), scored for two solo singers and string quartet, giving it – as here on disc – the feel of an integrated song-cycle. It succeeds as both forms equally well but its dramatic nature justifies the several notable, acclaimed stagings it has received in the US.
Unsurprisingly, it is As One’s subject matter that has received the most attention, relating the journey of the transgender Hannah, born a boy, to womanhood in the teeth of familial, educational and social opposition. The two singers represent Hannah’s inner monologue, the baritone her birth self – ‘Hannah Before’ – the mezzo the finally reconciled ‘Hannah After’. Both sing throughout, representing the contrasting sides of Hannah’s personality, though – as one might expect – dominance subtly shifts from male to female as the work progresses.
Part 1, comprising the Introduction and first six songs, deals with Hannah’s childhood, the recognition of her nature and her efforts to keep it secret. In Part 2 (songs 7-14), emergent adulthood brings both deeper joy and greater conflict, culminating with a ‘harrowing assault’: here, the mezzo recounts the incident counterpointed by the baritone’s listing a string of victims of even more horrendous attacks around the world. The third and concluding part is a single, extended aria, ‘Norway’ (prefigured by a snatch of Grieg in the preceding song), the refuge where Hannah finds a degree of peace.
Laura Kaminsky’s mostly luminous score elicits a radiant performance from the six performers. Sasha Cooke and Kelly Markgraf are beautifully balanced as the voices in Hannah’s head, at times inward-looking, at times reflecting the outside world, but concluding ‘as one’. The Fry Street Quartet accompany with elegance and subtlety. A remarkable achievement.