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Kate Soper’s ‘Here Be Sirens’

It has been said that the hardest thing for new opera or symphonic works is to get a second performance. Kate Soper’s musical theater/opera work, Here Be Sirens, premiered in 2014 at Dixon Place in New York City and had two series of performances. In March, it had its second run, this time by the Fresh Squeezed Opera Company at the LGBT Center on 13th Street, though only excerpts were performed, representing slightly less than half the opera.

Three performers, Victoria Benson (Polyxo), Claire Myers McCormick (Peitho) and Devony Smith (Phaino), coached by Dmitry Glivinskly, well represented the three Sirens, and also at times their enemy, the Muses. The staging backed the bells and whistles of the premiers at Dixon Place but was still effective.

The questions of the evening that the Sirens posed included, why did we lose our wings, and are we ever getting off this miserable rock?

The three characters were in varying stages of awareness that they were mythological and not human and thus would never get off their island, nor, presumably, stop eating the unfortunate sailors who washed ashore. The accompaniment for the evening’s musings was a lone piano that the three singers alternately played, plucked and pounded, though the singing was mostly a cappella.

The opera was alternately tragic and comic, full of classical references and humor, with a mixture of melodic styles. The text and music were by Soper, with additional text by such diverse authors as Jung, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Homer, Milton and Sappho. Soper offers an eclectic work that has touches of musical theater, opera and English music hall comedy slapstick. The work is, at bottom, as enchanting as the mythological Muses it so poignantly brings to life, if not to life off the island.

The Fresh Squeezed Opera Company is to be commended for re-staging Soper’s opera, as well as Nicole Murphy’s The Kamikaze Mind, the first half of the evening’s double bill.

The author is a trustee of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, which makes grants to commission new works of opera by emerging female composers, including Kate Soper.

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