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New opera adds voice for transgender awareness

January 11, 2019

The character of a city can often be derived from ascertaining the strength of its ethnic and cultural diversity. Often, the greater community is judged by the actions taken or not, on those whom are often marginalized and neglected. Fear of change, fear of the unknown are poisonous reactions to most things in our lives, but when entire populations are pushed aside and made to feel unwelcome because of their color or sexual orientation, the dream of living in a progressive city begins to fall short.

In San Antonio, transgender people represent all races, ages, ethnicities, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some transgender people identify as a gender other than what they were assigned at birth, while others identify as being beyond, between or a combination of genders. The public should be more informed about its transgender demographic.

Due to media (mis)portrayals and a general lack of education about transgender people, false stereotypes and assumptions persist. For example, some believe that to “be transgender” someone must medically transition (i.e., hormones and/or gender reassignment surgeries). This is untrue. Transgender identity is not defined by a person’s desire for medical interventions but on their experience that their gender identity is incongruent with the biological sex they were assigned at birth.

Another inaccurate assumption about transgender people is that all transgender individuals “feel trapped in the wrong body,” seek medical transitions from one gender to another, and/or want to change their legal documentation to a new name and gender. This is true for some within the community, but it is not true for all.

For millenniums, the performing arts have been used to reflect society’s triumphs and failures. Opera, especially in the past 300 years, has been the canvas on that artists have expressed hope and angst. American contemporary opera is rich in music and subject matter. It has become an art form of conscience, adding to today’s intellectual stimuli, as well as emotional satisfaction. As grand opera continues to decline in single ticket sales each year, America’s biggest houses have been and are being forced to downsize to survive. Where one door is seemingly closing, others have been opened wide, for smaller theatrical settings of contemporary works. In the New York City area alone, more than 100 small opera companies have sprung up in the past 10 years.

In San Antonio, Alamo City Opera has a goal of producing opera that is accessible for all, impacting diverse communities as well as the larger classical music lover. Its decision to produce the Texas premiere of the opera “As One” came after hearing the beautiful music and poignant story of the lead protagonist, Hannah.

Created and composed by Laura Kaminsky, with libretto written by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed, the story of Hannah in “As One” is a journey toward self-realization; it is not about a boy becoming a girl or trading one gender for another. While this journey has some conflicts along the way, Hannah’s realization is ultimately a joyful experience.

One other important consideration: This opera is not about the “transgender experience.” There is no one transgender experience; Hannah is certainly not “everytrans.” Nor is it a “transgender story” or “transgender opera.”

Only humans can be transgender. It is an opera about a transgender person or character, or an opera with a transgender protagonist, but it is not a “transgender opera.”

Finally, one of the main reasons for the popularity of “As One” is that its creators have made its story accessible in words and music. The journey of its transgender protagonist toward self-fulfillment is something everyone can relate to and understand.

“As One” plays Jan. 19 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 20 at 2:30 p.m. at the Buena Vista Theatre, UTSA downtown. For ticket information go to www.alamocityopera.org.

Mark A. Richter is Alamo City Opera’s founder and general and artistic director.

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