For a Bronx composer, opera rises out of identity struggles


Readers of The New York Times were moved by a 2008 piece following a New Jersey man whose wife and children supported his decision to become a woman. Denise Brunner and her wife planned to stay together, but their fate as a married couple was up in the air as the gay marriage debate played out in New Jersey.

Their cause inspired composer Laura Kaminsky to write an opera.

“It immediately made me think, wow, what is a person willing to sacrifice to be their true self?” said Ms. Kaminsky, a 2014 Bronx Recognizes Its Own (BRIO) winner for music composition. “It struck me as being incredibly operatic: alienation, true identity, how relationships change, how society imposes on that… I said, ‘I think I have to write this opera.’”

The culmination of her idea, her first opera, is As One, which will premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Thursday, Sept. 4. It is a collaboration between Ms. Kaminsky, who wrote the music for string quartet and developed the concept, and Kimberly Reed and Mark Campbell, who wrote the libretto, or text of the opera.

The piece focuses on transgender protagonist Hannah as she struggles with issues of gender identity and internal discord. The score calls for two singers — one male and one female — to play the role in order to convey Hannah’s struggle. 

Producing the project took Ms. Kaminsky and Ms. Reed to Norway, where the main character’s journey culminates. While Ms. Reed gathered footage, Ms. Kaminsky wrote, inspired by the Norwegian seascapes and skyscapes. The footage went into a film to be projected behind the stage in lieu of a physical set. Ms. Reed chose string quartet as her medium due to its range, from the cello’s lowest notes to the violin’s highest.

“It’s symbolic of [the] fluidity and full range of a human being and their gender and identity,” she explained. “It’s a very intimate piece in a way, but out of that intimacy comes a lot of power because you’re right inside that person’s journey.”

Her own journey, which has focused on music and activism, began in New York City. Her father, a Bronx native, met her mother, who hails from London, in France. 

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