Soprano Sammie Gorham, who you may have last seen wielding a riding crop in her production of the BDSM opera Susanna's Secret, says she and a bunch of other opera signers have been struggling to land paying gigs for a while.
Though there are several places to sing opera in and around Seattle, including Vashon Opera, City Opera Ballet in Bellvue, Tacoma Opera, and "a bunch of random tiny spots," Gorham says the relative glut of venues draws an even larger crowd of singers, which can make work for highly trained performers hard to find.
Seeing all the potential (and
desperation enthusiasm) in town, Gorham and baritone Mike Heitmann said “Fuck it, let’s just do it ourselves,” and created Operamuse, a new company that aims to modernize the old form and produce opera for the masses.
At the beginning of 2017, Operamuse joined up with GroupMuse, a social media network for people who want to host and/or perform chamber music in apartments around town. (I've attended a few. They're extremely pleasant.) But instead of playing a few sonatas and partitas, Gorham's small crew produces full-length classic operas. They translate the shows into English, update the situations while preserving the core story, and perform the whole thing in a stranger's living room, ditching the high production values that characterize so much contemporary opera.
In this mode they've done the Marriage of Figaro, Susanna, and the beloved La bohème. Earlier this year, as I mentioned, they teamed up with Colleen Louise Barry over at Mount Analogue to produce not-quite-the-first-ever BDSM opera, Susanna's Secret, which was a success for them. And now, on April 28, they're partnering with Groupmuse to produce a frat house adaptation of Mozart's Don Giovanni at University Heights Center.
Heitmann's hour-long version transports Mozart's Lothario from the cobblestone streets of 18th century Prague to the front lawn of a 21st century fraternity. The sleazy nobleman Giovanni, played by Heitmann, is now a grad student who preys on undergrads at the state university. He pays his friend, Leporello (Jonah Spool), to non-consensually document his sexual conquests. And instead of killing a man at the beginning of the story, Giovanni now sets off the action by drugging Commendatora, the Dean of Students, who has caught onto his heinous behavior.
Gorham plays Elivra, a pink-haired, tattooed feminist student who loves Giovanni despite the fact that he gets away with "continually toeing the line of consent" throughout the opera. She thinks her love will change him.
Heitmann started adapting the libretto before the sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein reignited the #MeToo movement "because it's one of this top three favorite operas," but Gorham says they both decided it was the right time to revisit this episode in operatic history.
Though the subject matter is heavy, Gorham tells me they're amping up the show's humor and trying to keep it light. Except, you know, for the famous finale, which will look kind of like this, but the guy in the black cape will be a woman, and the production values won't be so high, and everyone's probably going to be wearing polos:
The show only runs for one day, so get your tickets while you can. But if you miss it, keep your eye out for other shows. And if you're an opera singer yourself, Gorham said she and her partner just settled in a house in West Seattle, where they plan to "host auditions where we can all get drunk and sing for each other."
"Opera is very stuffy most of the time," she added, "and we're trying to change that."