An American Dream
Music by Jack Perla; Libretto by Jessica Murphy Moo
Commissioned by Seattle Opera
by arrangement with the publisher: Music Without Walls
Sole Agent: Bill Holab Music
In English with supertitles
Set in the Pacific Northwest during World War II
Treasured possessions become symbols of their lost homes for two women during World War II: a Japanese American facing incarceration and a German Jewish immigrant preoccupied by those she left behind, in Jack Perla and Jessica Murphy Moo’s 2013 drama.
Making their Opera Santa Barbara debuts, our production will be led by director Richard Gammon and conductor Eiki Isomura. Santa Barbara native Nina Yoshida-Nelsen (Frugola | Il Tabarro/El Amor Brujo ’21) will return to the Lobero to sing the role of Hiroko, which she originally created for the premiere of An American Dream. Also making her Opera Santa Barbara debut is soprano Janet Szepei Todd in the role of Hiroko’s daughter, Setsuko. Mezzo soprano Audrey Babcock (Carmen in your car ’20, Elizabeth Proctor |The Crucible ’19) sings the role of Eva Crowley, a German Jew married to an American veteran, Jim Crowley, portrayed by Ben Lowe (Sacristan| Tosca ’22) who buys the Kobayashi family home. Bass Paul An rounds out the cast in his Opera Santa Barbara debut as Makoto Kobayashi. Yuki Izumihara returns to the Lobero stage as scenic and projection designer after her recent triumphs in Semele ’21 and Tosca ’22.
Richard Gammon (he/him), a Filipino American stage director, directed the double bill of Gluck’s L’île de Merlin and Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis with Wolf Trap Opera; Madama Butterfly with Virginia Opera; the double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Michael Ching’s Buoso’s Ghost at Michigan Opera Theatre; the American premiere of Scarlatti's Erminia at the Kennedy Center with Opera Lafayette; Laura Kaminsky’s As One with the Opera Maine Studio Artist Program; Susannah with Charlottesville Opera; Jack Perla’s An American Dream with Virginia Opera’s inaugural contemporary opera series “VAriations”; and Andy Monroe's The Life and Times of Joe Jefferson Benjamin Blow at NYC's Theatre 315 with the National Asian Artists Project. At the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival he directed Much Ado About Nothing after having previously directed a touring production of The Tempest; and for Cleveland Play House's film The CARE Monologue Project Richard directed monologues written by Rajiv Joseph, Lloyd Suh, Karen Zacarias, Tanya Saracho, and Matthew Lopez. He directed the world premiere of Jorge Sosa’s electronic opera The Lake at ArtSounds in Kansas City; Trouble in Tahiti with Paul Watkins at the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival; the workshop of J Ashley Miller’s pop opera Echosis with Atemporchestra; and was Associate Director for The Grapes of Wrath at Michigan Opera Theatre and Porgy and Bess with Greensboro Opera.
Richard is the director of the Opera Maine Studio Artist Program and productions he has directed there include Jack Perla's An American Dream (East Coast premiere), Mohammed Fairouz’s Sumeida’s Song, Jake Heggie's Three Decembers, Trouble in Tahiti, The Medium, and a site-specific production of Gianni Schicchi at SPACE Gallery. He is also the co-founder and director of Art with Arias, an annual collaborative recital series partnering artists from the Opera Maine Studio Artist Program with the Portland Museum of Art.
Richard also enjoys working with young artists at leading conservatories and universities. He has recently accepted the position as Director of Opera at the University of Northern Iowa and has directed Dido and Aeneas, Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda as well as creating and directing an annual collaborative recital program between UNI Opera and the UNI Gallery of Art entitled In The Studio. Other conservatory/university productions include Hindemith’s Sancta Susanna and Rorem’s Three Sisters who are Not Sisters at the Manhattan School of Music; the world premiere of Jorge Sosa’s liturgical drama Tonantzin at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance; Silent Night, La traviata, Sweeney Todd, La bohème, Così fan tutte, and Ward’s The Crucible (cancelled midway through the process due to COVID-19) with the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre; and Sankaram’s Looking At You, Ward's Roman Fever, and Hilliard & Boresi's The Filthy Habit at Carnegie Mellon University.
Other creative positions include Creative Associate for the world premiere of Dream’d in a dream with Seán Curran Company at BAM Next Wave Festival, an Artist Resident at Hewnoaks Artist Colony (2018) and the Institute for American Art (2017), Resident Assistant Director at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (2016-2018), and an Assistant Director at LA Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Wolf Trap Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Palm Beach Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Virginia Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Charlottesville Opera, Opera North, and Opera Maine working on productions that include the world premieres of Jack Perla’s Shalimar, the Clown; Terence Blanchard’s Champion; Ricky Ian Gordon’s 27 and Rappahannock County; Jorge Martin’s Before Night Falls; and the American premieres of Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland; and Jacques Ibert’s Persée et Andromède.
Upcoming productions include An American Dream with Opera Santa Barbara, Albert Herring and the double bill of The Impresario and Derrick Wang’s Scalia/Ginsburg with the Princeton Festival, and Philip Glass’ The Fall of the House of Usher with the Opera Maine Studio Artist Program. Richard is also currently collaborating with composer Jorge Sosa and librettist Melisa Tien on a new opera scheduled to premiere in the Spring of 2023.
Japanese-American conductor Eiki Isomura is in his fifth season as artistic director and principal conductor of Opera in the Heights (OH) in Houston, where he has led over a hundred performances of over twenty-five operas, drawing consistent praise for elevating the company's performance standard: "The orchestra has never sounded so focused," wrote the Houston Press, "Down the line, this is ensemble-playing of fine caliber... The OH chorus is ultra-fine, smooth and lustrous... Maestro Isomura deserves our thanks."
During his tenure at OH, Maestro Isomura commissioned female Arab and Muslim American composer Jonia Jarrar's Seven Spells in 2020, and Black American composer Steve Wallace's Unsung Activist in 2021, while developing a partnership with the Holocaust Museum Houston to co-produce Derrick Wang's Scalia / Ginsburg as part of the museum's Notorious RBG exhibit. In 2019, Isomura collaborated with Pacific Opera Project (POP) artistic director, Josh Shaw, as co-librettists in creating a Japanese-English bilingual production of Madama Butterfly. The co-production between POP and OH won an Opera America Innovation Grant and has drawn critical acclaim and field-wide attention as a compelling solution to the opera's many problems.
Upcoming engagements include a debut with Opera Philadelphia for Hosokawa's The Raven. A passionate advocate for new music, Isomura launched OHs' first-ever new works festival, has co-commissioned/produced five operas, and has led numerous world premieres with MUSIQA, Houston's leading new music collective. He conducted the world premiere of Laura Schwendinger's chamber opera Cabaret of Shadows; concert premieres of Marcus Maroney's Velvet and Trevor Weston's Stars; the Houston premiere of Mack & McGuire's Lucinda y las Flores de la Nochebuena, and Piazzola's María de Buenos Aires, which he led from the piano, drawing praise from the Houston Press: "Isomura seems to have lived another life in Argentina for the love and passion he imbues in the score."
Prior to his time at OH, Maestro Isomura served on the music staff of Arizona Opera and HGOco, preparing the workshops and world premieres of numerous chamber operas for Houston Grand Opera. His educational activities have included work with Opera in the Ozarks, Lone Star College, and guest music director of opera at Temple University. In addition to his work as conductor, producer, educator, and sometimes librettist/translator, Isomura is a sought-after adjudicator of vocal competitions and panelist for arts organizations. Maestro Isomura serves on the Opera America Artistic Services Council and holds a doctorate in orchestral conducting from the University of Michigan, where he studied with Kenneth Kiesler, who also mentored him as a conducting fellow at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
Yuki Izumihara is a Los Angeles based freelance scenic, projection designer for theater and opera, and a production designer for film.
Yuki has received her MFA in Entertainment Design from UCLA in 2016.
Australian soprano Janet Szepei Todd is a lively and versatile singer based in Los Angeles.
She completed her Master of Music at the Manhattan School of Music in New York in 2016 where she performed roles including Cecile in Conrad Susa’s Dangerous Liaisons, Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Noemie in Massenet’s Cendrillon and Angelica in Michael Dellaira’s new opera The Leopard in conjunction with New York Opera Projects. She has since sung world premieres of new chamber works including a song cycle by US composer Marjorie Merryman, and Roger Nierenberg amongst others, and has starred in new comic opera short film collaborations by Rainy Park Opera NYC/Galaxy454 production
In 2019, Janet performed Cio-Cio San in Pacific Opera Project's bilingual production of Madama Butterfly, performed in Japanese and English. She joined the company again as Yum Yum in The Mikado, and Mimi in La Boheme.
In 2018 Janet performed Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly with Opera Columbus. She was the soprano soloist in Bach’s B Minor Mass with The Sydney Philharmonia, and performed a leading role in the Los Angeles premier of American composer Mark Lanz Weiser’s new opera The Place Where You Started.
In her home town of Melbourne, Australia, Janet made her debut with Victorian Opera in 2011 as Pamina in The Magic Flute, going on to perform Liesgen in Bach’s Coffee Cantata (for which she was nominated for an Australian Green Room Award for best principal female artist), Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier for their 2012 Gala Concert and The Prince in Cinderella pantomime (Gill) . With Opera Australia Janet performed Pamina in The Magic Flute in their 2014 Opera on the Beach spectacular, and for Opera Australia’s Oz Opera she has performed the roles of both Donna Elvira (2013) and Zerlina (2012) in Don Giovanni. She was soprano soloist in The Australian Ballet’s double bill Elegy singing Faure’s Requiem, as well as their Vanguard tripe bill program singing Pergolese’s Stabat Mater. For Pinchgut Opera, Sydney, she performed the role of Miss Hawk in Salieri’s The Chimney Sweep, and Zelmira in Haydn’s Armida. Janet sung the title role in Handel’s Esther with Canberra's Handel in the Theatre, and Iole in their production of Handel’s Hercules. In the music theater world, Janet performed Marsinah in Kismet with The Production Company, State Theatre.
Awards and prizes include Opera Foundation Australia AIMS Award as well as the AIMS Sundell Study award (2010), runner up in The Herald Sun Aria (2009), she was the recipient of a Dame Nellie Melba Opera Trust Scholarship (2010, 2011 and 2012), won an Ian Potter Cultural Institute Award (2014) and was awarded the Dame Heather Begg Award (2014).
Janet is also currently a member of the Los Angeles Opera chorus.
Nina Yoshida Nelsen
Hailed as a “rich voiced, expressive mezzo-soprano” by San Francisco Classical Voice, Nina Yoshida Nelsen made her New York City Opera debut with great success as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, conducted by George Manahan.
In the 2021-2022 season Nina Yoshida Nelsen makes her Boston Lyric Opera debut as Mama Lucia in Cavalleria Rusticana. She also makes her Bard Opera debut singing Mother Chen in Huang Ruo’s An American Soldier, with performances at Jazz at Lincoln Center. She then returns to Opera Santa Barbara for a double bill of El Amor Brujo and Frugola in Il Tabarro. Nina makes her Chicago Opera Theater debut singing Queen Sophine in Mark Adamo’s Becoming Santa Claus. In the spring, she sings mezzo solos in Boston Lyric Opera’s “Uplifting Asian Voices” concert and records Madama Butterfly with the company. She also will sing Mama in Jack Perla’s An American Dream at Kentucky Opera and the Alto Solo in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Rhode Island Philharmonic.
In the 2019-2020 season Nina Yoshida Nelsen made her Portland Opera debut as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly. She also performed the world premiere of Blood Moon at Prototype Festival in New York City. Nina returned to Chicago Lyric Opera to cover Suzuki in Madama Butterfly and gigs canceled due to Covid were the Santa Barbara Symphony performances Beethoven's Mass in C ?and the role of Khanh in Huang Ruo's Bound at The Juilliard School.
In the 2018-2019 season, Nina made her Lyric Opera Chicago debut as Mama in Jack Perla's An American Dream. She also reprised the same role at Anchorage Opera. Nina returned to Opera Santa Barbara as Tituba in The Crucible and also sang in their 25th Anniversary Gala concert.
Nina made an important debut at Utah Opera in March of 2009, singing Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro. The mezzo-soprano is the recipient of a 2008 Encouragement Award from the Gerda Lissner Vocal Competition. In 2006, Ms. Nelsen was a National Semi-Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. She is a 2009 graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) in Philadelphia, where she studied with Bill Schuman. At AVA, her roles included: Alisa in Lucia di Lammermoor, Smeton in Anna Bolena, Dorabella in Così fan tutte, Kabanicha in Katya Kabanova, Annina in La traviata, Larina in Eugene Onegin, and Erika in Vanessa.
Other noteworthy recent engagements include: Stéphano in Roméo et Juliette with Opera New Jersey, Rebecca Nurse in The Crucible with Utah Festival Opera, the title role in Carmen and the role of Antonia’s Mother in Les contes d’Hoffmann with Komische Kammeroper of Munich, and Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly with Opera Santa Barbara.
Nina Yoshida Nelsen spent the 2004-2005 season as an Artist-In-Residence with Orange County Opera, where she performed the role of the Marquise de Berkenfeld in La fille du régiment in their educational outreach program. Ms. Nelsen made her debut with Opera Providence in 2002 as Tisbe in La cenerentola, and subsequently appeared with the company as Dorabella in their English version of Così fan tutte.
Other notable roles include Idamante in Idomeneo, Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Lulu in Lukas Foss’The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, all of which she performed with the Opera Institute at Boston University.
In 2005, Ms. Nelsen was a National Finalist in the prestigious Loren L. Zachary Society Vocal Competition, and she was also a National Finalist in the 2006 and 2008 Jensen Foundation Vocal Competition. In 2004, Ms. Nelsen won first prize in the Performing Arts Foundation Vocal Competition, the Profant Foundation Vocal Competition and the Santa Barbara Foundation Vocal Competition.
Audrey Babcock is an award-winning mezzo-soprano who is quickly gaining notoriety for her commanding, powerful performances as Carmen and her dark, hypnotic portrayals of Maddalena in Rigoletto. As Carmen, Ms. Babcock made her French debut with the Festival Lyrique-en-Mer and has performed the role with Florentine Opera, Nashville Opera, Florida Grand Opera, New York City Opera, San Antonio Opera, Knoxville Opera, Opera Delaware, Toledo Opera, Anchorage Opera, Dayton Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Mill City Summer Opera, and Utah Festival Opera where The Salt Lake Tribune wrote “Audrey Babcock's performance as Carmen was a spellbinding tour de force...from the moment she took the stage her self-assured characterization was mesmerizing ...Babcock's caramel-hued mezzo was a pleasure…her supple tones caressed the notes, radiating earthy allure.”
Widely recognized as a choice singer for new works, Ms. Babcock has premiered several new operas including Tobias Picker’s Thérèse Raquin (NY Premiere - Dicapo Opera), With Blood, With Ink (World Premiere - Fort Worth Opera), La Reina (American Lyric Theater, NY and Prototype Festival), The Poe Project (American Lyric Theater), and appeared as Mother in Winter’s Tale with Beth Morrison’s Prototype Festival in NYC in 2015. Last season’s engagements included the title role in The Tragedy of Carmen with Opera Santa Barbara as well as a cancelled concert with the Santa Barbara Symphony. Ms. Babcock’s engagements for the 2021-2022 season include Lily; her life, his music with Marble City Opera, Mama in Why I Live at the P.O. with UrbanArias, and Verdi’s Requiem with the Reading Symphony Orchestra.
California native, bass PAUL AN has performed over 50 operatic and oratorio roles. As a soloist, he has appeared in concert with the New York Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony, Tulsa Symphony, among many others. Opera credits include works of Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, as well as contemporary and early music composers with such companies as Nashville Opera, Prototype Festival, Orlando Opera, Loft Opera, as well as in residence at the Aspen Music Festival and the Juilliard School. Paul An is a featured soloist and member of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Trinity Baroque Orchestra and he has recorded many soundtracks for feature films.
AMERICA, THE 1940S
A farmhouse on a Puget Sound island. An American veteran, Jim Crowley, and Eva, his new wife, have come to buy a home. A German Jew, Eva desperately wants her parents to leave Germany, where their lives are in danger. She hopes her family will find peace and sanctuary in this place so far from the war. Meanwhile, inside the home, a Japanese American family has heard that the FBI has been searching homes and arresting people of Japanese descent. The family burns their precious Japanese belongings, attempting to erase all ties to Japan in the hopes that they will avoid arrest.
Eva waits outside as Jim, knowing he has the upper hand, tries to get Makoto Kobayashi to sell the land for a fraction of what it is worth. The FBI arrives at the home and tells Makoto he is under arrest; the FBI found some old dynamite in the shed out back, and they say this contraband makes him a threat. Makoto decides, under the pressure of the situation, to sell the land to Jim. As the FBI agents take Makoto away, he and his teenage daughter, Setsuko, promise to meet at the farmhouse, the only home they know, after the war.
Setsuko and her mother, Hiroko, have packed up the house. Setsuko holds her suitcase, ready to leave, when a postman delivers a letter. Setsuko sees that it is from Germany, for a woman named Eva. Angry that she is being forced to leave her home, the girl steals the letter.
A few weeks later
Jim and Eva move into their new home; they designate a room for Eva’s parents. Jim tries to keep Eva’s hopes up. Eva notices that small items have been left behind in the home: a piece of a record and a photograph. When she finds a beautiful Hina-Matsuri doll hidden beneath a floorboard, Eva asks Jim about the previous owners. Jim tells her that they were “Japs,” sent to the internment camps. He tells her to throw away the doll, that it doesn’t belong in a room for her parents. Eva defies Jim’s wishes and hides the doll, promising to find its owner and return it at war’s end.
Jim and Eva hear an announcement on the radio of Germany’s surrender. Eva, who has learned about the Kobayashi family and their whereabouts, writes to Setsuko, telling Setsuko she has something that belongs to her.
Later that month
While still incarcerated, Setsuko receives the letter. When her mother, who is gravely ill, inquires about the letter, Setsuko lies and explains that the letter is from her father, telling them to keep hope because the war is nearly done.
Puget Sound Farmhouse. When a letter comes back to Eva from Setsuko, Jim intercepts it and tells Eva that Setsuko is not allowed in their home. President Truman announces the dropping of the atomic bomb.
There is a knock on the door. It is Setsuko, returning to the home. Setsuko confronts Jim, reminding him that he coerced her family to sell their home for next to nothing. Eva asks Jim if this is true.
Jim tries to explain his actions to Eva, but she can’t accept what he has done. She leaves the room to retrieve the doll she has promised to return to Setsuko. While she is gone, Jim confronts Setsuko, and Setsuko admits to another reason for coming. She is here to return Eva’s letter. Eva returns to the room, and Setsuko gives her the letter. From the stolen letter, Eva learns of her parents’ fate, and she collapses. Setsuko must finish reading the letter for her. Jim tries to comfort Eva. Setsuko’s father arrives at the front door.
(via Seattle Opera)