Julia Morgan as Lilah; photo: Belle Ancell

QueerFest 2013
Arts Festival & Powell St. Festival Society

When the Sun Comes Out 
by Leslie Uyeda, libretto by Rachel Rose

sung in English 

Dates and Venue 5, 7, 9, August @ 7.30 pm | The Roundhouse, Vancouver

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

It is always a pleasure to see a new opera, especially one locally created and with a bold theme. When the Sun Comes Out bills itself as the first lesbian opera and it may well be so, though other art forms are well ahead in this respect.

Commissioned by the Queer Arts Festival, Leslie Uyeda made a wise choice of librettist in accomplished poet Rachel Rose for her librettist.  The two have created an opera where text and music work very well together.

The opera is conventional in its depiction of a woman tempted by a dangerous, attractive and exciting suitor, unconventional in the lovers being women, conventional in that love of a child holds back the mother, unconventional in that love for the same child constrains the father also. Rachel Rose’s text is rich in imagery, unafraid to be ruthless, wholly willing to be tender. The dramatic structure is very still, confined to real time and a single set, in contrast with the driving, emotional sagas of the characters.

The plot, such as it is, - the work is more a dramatic poem than a work of drama - explores the quandary of three people who find themselves in a relationship restricted as much by their own characters as by society. Solana (soprano Teiya Kasahada) has returned from Canada to the unnamed country where her beloved Lilah (contralto Julia Morgan) lives and persuades her into a last, loving night. Lilah’s husband Jovan (Aaron Durand) discovers them, and is furious, but he is astounded to find that his quiet wife has known about his own affairs with boys. He tells them his own love story, his lover dead now from a beating in the street, himself racked with guilt and grief and fear. How the three, or four counting the child, are to live now is the issue. 

Uyeda and Rose have been able to attract some of Vancouver’s best performers. Teiya Kasahara has an amazing top register. Her high notes dazzle and her stage presence is dark and forceful. Solana’s long opening aria is a character study in which she radiates steely determination like a shark. Alienated and predatory, she promises to be a most interesting character. 

In a nicely judged trajectory Julia Morgan’s combination of glowing contralto voice and delicate sensitivity to text allowed the introspective Lilah to blossom into a formidable power, the equal of her rogue lover and her lawful, wedded husband.

Aaron Durand’s Jovan was emotionally the weakest character. Despite Jovan’s having had to face the violent death of his lover, and despite Durand’s sweet and true baritone, Jovan’s plight came across as self-serving and self-centred, too shallow a character to balance the women.

Uyeda’s orchestration was truly lovely. One violin, one flute, one clarinet, one cello and piano was all that was needed for a graceful, fluid sound, impeccably played by members of the Vancouver Opera orchestra. The music was rich but not lush, well-constructed and with good dramatic sense. Both text and music also endured some longeurs.

The opera is less polemic than its advertising suggests. The unnamed country which is the setting might be Russia, or the Middle East, or it might even be Vancouver, recently in the news as the gay-bashing capital of Canada. Fortuitously timed as it is, this was a necessary undertaking.

© 2013 Elizabeth Paterson