You could make the argument that all opera is torture, and so claim that Susanna's Secret, Samantha Gorham's BDSM adaptation of Enrico Golisciani's early-20th-century intermezzo, isn't anything new. But then you risk writing off one of the most rousing performances on offer this season, which would be a shame (and not in a hot way).
The show—which runs at Mount Analogue from January 20 to February 14—features Gorham and Darrell J. Jordan of Operamuse, a new collective of local singers who translate operas into contemporary English and perform them in intimate spaces. The only other singer onstage is actually completely silent the whole time and prefers to remain anonymous for personal (and completely understandable) reasons.
In the original opera, Susanna's secret is simply that she's cheating on her husband, Gil, with her servant, Sante. In Gorham's version, the setting is present-day Seattle and Susanna is concealing a Dom/sub relationship with Sante, who's been recast as a friend who comes around and smokes a lot of weed on the couple's couch.
"I wouldn't call him a gimp," says Mount Analogue founder and scenic designer Colleen Barry over a drink at Saint John's on Capitol Hill. "The kink is that he dresses like a servant, but without a shirt. And he's covered in glitter. It's probably going to be pink glitter. Maybe purple. Depends on what we can get at Michaels."
The first scene of the opera is surprisingly moving. Dressed in a custom-made sequined corset and surrounded by candles shaped like various genitals, Susanna walks Sante around the apartment on a leash and belts out her desires in a crystalline soprano. Though she likes whipping Sante (and though Sante likes being whipped), she confesses that she really just wants to be dominated by her husband. "He would never want me like this, but I love it so! All I can think of is this with him," she sings mournfully. Tension builds throughout the show as the Dom/sub relationship plays out just beneath Gil's nose while he remains perfectly aloof most of the time.
Due to space constraints (all of this is happening in an art book shop), only 40 tickets are available for each show. On Valentine's Day, Barry is offering a special ticket that includes a rose, champagne, and a whipping from a cast member of your choice. Meow. The special ticket is $30, and the rest of the performances are priced on a sliding scale from $15 to $50.
In concert with the show, Barry is also hosting a "Trash Gala" during First Thursday art walk (February 1), which will showcase a slew of Seattle singers dressed as characters from the world of opera performing requests from whoever stops by. She also says she'll curate the bookstore's selection of featured books to be "as saucy as possible."
"The idea is to put this incredibly strange, melodramatic, outdated art form in a DIY space and then bring in all these people who never thought they'd be seeing an opera," Barry says, "let alone an opera about BDSM and the performative nature of romantic relationships."
It's a wonder so few BDSM operas exist. After all, to some degree, every human relationship involves some performance of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission—and especially sadism and masochism.