I saw *Angel’s Bone* online on July 15, 2021. It was a recording of a live performance from January 2016, when it was premiered at the Prototype Festival. It’s an opera with music by Du Yan and a libretto by Royce Vavrek. Here’s how the opera is described on the Prototype website:
“*Angel’s Bone* is a work of opera-theatre that follows the plight of two angels whose nostalgia for earthly delights has, mysteriously, brought them back to our world. They are found battered and bruised from their long journey by a man and his wife. Mr. and Mrs. X.E. set out to nurse the wounded angels back to health: they bathe them, wash the dirt from their nails…then lock them in a room and decide to exploit these magical beings for wealth and personal gains. *Angel’s Bone* melds chamber music, theatre, punk rock, opera, cabaret, and electronics, exploring the dark effects and motivations behind modern-day slavery and the trafficking industry.”
I had three reasons to be excited for this performance. First, I’m always interested in new opera, have seen many shows at Prototype, and was sure it would be worth seeing. Second, I thought the title sounded familiar so I Googled it - - the opera won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2017! So wow, I gotta check that out. And third, and most precisely, my friend Abigail Fischer (aka Abby) was playing the central role of Mrs. X. E. She’s an extraordinary singer, I was sure she’d do something remarkable.
The opera really knocked me out. The music shifts styles every ten minutes or so, but it never feels gimmicky, the style of music is always deeply rooted in the drama. I’m sure music director Julian Wachner and the NOVUS NY chamber orchestra had a lot to do with the feeling of cohesion. The story was disturbing and the music was sometimes grating and challenging, but Yan wisely followed the most intense scenes with a quiet, lyrical scene.
The high point of the opera was a solo scene for Abby’s character, singing to herself while looking in the mirror. It was a turning point in the story, it was hypnotic. She took off her red bobbed wig to reveal her own amazing long curly red hair. I had the feeling we were supposed to think there was something supernatural going on, it was stunning.
Yan seemed inspired in her writing for Abby: the vocal line was often florid but entirely contemporary - - like Bellini morphed with John Zorn.
The New York City Opera would have commissioned Yan for a new work, back in the day. Is she too out there for the Met?