Riot-Girl Opera Tackles Love in an Oppressive World
When Brooklyn College graduate Marie Incontrera finished up her extensive five-year program under prodigious jazz musician and composer Fred Ho, she set off to make her mark upon the opera world. With the May 18 staging of her debut opera, "At the Other Side of the Earth," Incontrera is well on her way to branding herself as a progressive, riot-girl composer whose works have a social significance.
"This is a short feminist opera about social change," said Incontrera in a recent interview. "Being a lesbian inspired this, but also George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and other dystopian literature. It is about coming out in an oppressive society where law enforcement is very strict and it is very dangerous to be gay. The two main characters have to get around that."
The character Aurora is a very repressed girl who is unsure about who she is. When she meets punk rock/riot girl Layla, who is very secure in her sexuality and personality, Aurora is forced to face her true self. Their struggle with George Orwellian law enforcement proves to be both terrifying and hilariously futile, as the two women attempt to follow their hearts to great risk.
"Aurora is very frustrated, but admires Layla from afar," said Incontrera. "Layla toys with her until Aurora comes out and experiences liberation, then it gets to the action, where they are getting together. The risk is never made clear, but their love is against the law, punishable in court, and the punishment is very severe. I wanted to leave it ambiguous, but ’The Man’ might kill them."
The archetype protagonist in the opera is simply called, "The Man." Incontrera said this "Big Brother"-type is against any sort of sexual freedom or homosexuality, wishing to suppress it at all costs.
"He is blindly oppressive to these girls, and to his wife. I wanted him to be both funny and very scary at the same time," said Incontrera. "He is very chauvinistic, telling his wife, ’Iron my shirt.’ He’s scary in a lot of ways, but Layla is not afraid of him. The funny thing is, in the end, it turns out that he’s attracted to Layla. He’s oppressive and clueless at the same time."
Relevant to the U.S.
Incontrera said that she found parallels in the story to parts of the U.S. where gay rights are less tenuous than in urban areas.
"Living in New York, people tend to forget how it can be in other places around the world," said Incontrera. "I wanted to bring forward the most extreme examples. It’s important because a lot of people still experience repression."
She rented the New York Gay and Lesbian Community Center for her debut, calling it "an important, open, and honest space." She also felt the venue was conducive to the opera’s modern theme, fused as it is with punk, reggae, tango, and other influences. Incontrera also said that she wanted the opera to be very accessible, rather than something that people felt they needed to get all dressed up to go to.
"I’m hoping to forge new ground," said Incontrera. "This is my first riot girl opera. After this I plan to make an opera/ballet inspired by a real Civil War soldier who was born a woman, but lived as a man, fighting in the war. I am interested in stories that have an important message. I am trying to create a more relevant form of opera."
"At the Other Side of the Earth" opens on May 18 at the Center, 208 W. 13th St. For info or tickets, visit www.riotgirlopera.com