Richard and I watched *The Island We Made* online on April 25, 2021.
I read about this online opera in The New York Times. It was an opera on film commissioned by Opera Philadelphia with music and lyrics by Angélica Negrón, directed by Matthew Placek. The thing that caught my eye was the fact that the central role was played by drag superstar Sasha Velour. I don’t watch *RuPaul’s Drag Race,* but Richard and I saw a live performance by stars of the show at Town Hall years ago, and since Velour had been the winner of the most recent season, she was the final act.
I debated whether or not to see it because of the price: $10 for a ten-minute online film. Gave me pause. But since I’m the target audience for this project, I thought it was important that I see it.
The setting was an austere middle-class suburban or rural home, frozen in time in the early 80s. The floral wallpaper in the bathroom told the whole story. Velour made her entrance in a yellow gown, rhinestone-encrusted platform heels, rhinestone-encrusted gloves, and a rhinestone-encrusted skull. I think her eyelashes might have been made out of actual mink. Her placement in this setting was incongruous, but in a pleasing way. Three other women appeared in the film, sitting at the dining room table, working gray clay to make a small figurine.
Eliza Bagg was the singer on the soundtrack, her singing was lip-synched by the four onscreen actors. The music was beautiful and evocative. The music was just one element of the whole - - the music, the filmmaking, the performances, the design, it all worked together, and the music wasn’t necessarily more important than any of the others. It says something that it was produced by an opera company and not by a film festival or drag venue.
In the New York Times article about the opera, composer Negrón was asked why she called it an opera and she more or less said, “Why not call it an opera?” Why not indeed. I’ll say this: the Italian dudes who created opera back in the 17th century never would have imagined that it would one day embody a work featuring Sasha Velour in full drag glory spreading peanut butter on a graham cracker. But for that matter, I don’t think Benjamin Britten could have imagined such a thing when he was writing operas in the 1950s.