As One Opera Hawaii

Operawire names HOT’s As One in Top 5 Operas to See

The international online publication OperaWire named HOT’s production of As One in its Top 5 Operas to see This Weekend in North America for the weekend of Friday, January 12, 2018!

Read the Full Article

As One will be performed this weekend, January 13 and January 14, at 4 pm, along with a closing performance on Tuesday, January 16, at 7:30 pm at the Aloha Tower Terminal, Pier 10.

As One
A chamber opera for two singers and string quartet
Music and Concept by Laura Kaminsky
Libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed
Film by Kimberly Reed

“A piece that haunts and challenges its audience with questions about identity, authenticity, compassion and the human desire for self-love and peace.” ~ Opera News

Created by Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed, As One depicts with empathy and humor the journey of a transgender person named Hannah as she achieves self-fulfillment in her life. The 75-minute opera stars Sasha Cooke and Kelly Markgraf, who are married in real life and created the roles of “Hannah after” and “Hannah before” at the 2014 premiere. 

Don’t miss out! Tickets from $35 at Tickets.HawaiiOpera.Org, by phone at 808.596.7858, or at the door.

Fry Street Quartet on Hawaii News Now

Fry Street Quartet Live on Hawaii News Now

Audiences in Hawaii heard a snippet of what the Fry Street Quartet will be bringing to the new HOT venue stage at the Terminal at Aloha Tower on this morning’s Hawaii News Now Sunrise.

The Fry Street Quartet – hailed by the New York Times as a “triumph of ensemble playing” – has a full weekend coming up with HOT this weekend, with performances as the accompaniment for the chamber opera As One on January 11, 13, 14, & 16, as well as in an independent showcase on January 12. 

Follow these links to watch the two-part video feature:

Fry Street Quartet on Hawaii News Now – Part 1

Fry Street Quartet on Hawaii News Now – Part 2


Star Advertiser TGIF Cover: ‘As One’ Opera Explores Transgender Experience

In the world of stage and entertainment, it’s not uncommon to have one person play two roles. Less common is to have two characters play one — unless it’s a “Bewitching” situation where Dick Sargent replaced Dick York. It’s also not unheard of to have men play a female role — just witness the film “Jumanji: In the Jungle.”

But it would be safe to say that none of those is quite as innovative as “As One,” a chamber opera presented by Hawaii Opera Theatre starting next week. The opera has only character, a transgender person named Hannah, who over the course of the opera transitions from male to female. Hannah is portrayed by the husband-wife duo of baritone Kelly Markgraf and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, who as “Hannah before” and “Hannah after” simultaneously experience life through the prism of both genders.

In its four-year history “As One” has become a favorite among small opera ensembles, with more than a dozen productions already staged and several more planned for this year. The New York Classical Review called it “everything we hoped for in contemporary opera: topical, poignant, daring and beautifully written.”

Presented by Hawaii Opera Theatre>> Where: Aloha Tower, Pier 10
>> When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Jan. 16, 4 p.m. Jan. 13-14
>> Cost: $35-$65
>> Info: 596-7858,

For Cooke, a Grammy-winning operatic singer, and Markgraf, known for his versatility in classical, pop and jazz roles, the appearance here will mark a homecoming of sorts; Cooke is a direct descendant of Amos Cooke, the missionary and businessman who laid the groundwork for Castle & Cooke, one of Hawaii’s “Big Five” corporations. The pair got married here and visit as often as possible.

Markgraf and Cooke gave the world premiere of “As One” in 2014, but HOT’s production will be only their second time performing it together since then, as both are in heavy demand by opera companies around the world.

“I haven’t been free for any of the ones I was requested to do, but Hawaii was awesome because they really worked around our schedule to make it work,” said Cooke, speaking from her home in Texas a few days after performances in Germany.

“As One” had its genesis in 2012, when New Jersey, along with other states, was wrestling with the issue of same-sex marriage. Composer Laura Kaminsky read a newspaper story about a husband, who, with his wife’s support, was planning to undergo gender reassignment. New Jersey did not recognize same-sex marriages at the time, so once the man transitioned, their union would have been derecognized and all the benefits derived from marriage — Social Security, health insurance, retirement — would be in jeopardy.

“They were in love as people, not as body parts, and if the law did not pass in New Jersey, they would no longer be married and they’d lose all those benefits,” she said. “As I read the article, I was thinking, ‘This is operatic. … What is it to be a fully realized human being, in the context of the people in your orbit, and then what are you willing to give up in order to gain yourself?’”

It a took a number of random events to bring “As One” to fruition in its final form. Kaminsky, a respected composer of contemporary music, had never created an opera before and until then had never been interested in doing so. But during a visit to Russia she obtained some rarely performed Shostakovich scores, and seeking someone to perform them, connected with Cooke, whose parents are Russian-language professors in Texas, and Markgraf.

“I fell in love with them,” Kaminsky said. “They’re extraordinary artists, but it’s because they’re extraordinary human beings. They’re deeply empathic, spiritual and empathetic and intellectual all at once. … I wanted them to be in my opera; in fact, I wanted them to ‘be’ my opera. I wanted them to be the one character.”

Kaminsky came across the story of filmmaker Kimberly Reed, a transgender person whose story of transition from male to female and her interaction with her rural hometown was told in the film “Prodigal Sons.” Kaminsky teamed up Reed with Mark Campbell, a respected opera librettist, to come up with a story, tossing a few ideas around initially but not coming up with anything.

“I started talking to Kim (Reed), saying, ‘Why don’t you tell me about some of your experiences as a transgender person?’” Campbell said. “She talked about having a bicycle route, the way all boys did when people looked at newspapers, and one day she decided to do it in a blouse.”

That incident would eventually become the opening scene of “As One.”

Much of the opera reflects Reed’s experience, but it is not biographical, Campbell said. Some parts are drawn from other known incidents, such as assaults on transgender people.

For Campbell, “As One,” while reflecting the particulars of a transgender person, has a universality that will make the story relevant to people no matter their interest or knowledge of the issues.

“This is about a person’s happiness,” said Campbell, who as a gay man identified with some of the identity issues raised in the opera.

“If you know a transgender person, you will realize that there is nothing different about them, that they are just seeking happiness. They were not born with a gender they feel they are. Why would you deny someone’s happiness? If you reduce it to that, most people cannot fight it.”

“As One” traces Hannah’s journey in 15 vignettelike songs, many of them sung by both singers as they reflect on incidents from a male or female perspective. For example, in a song about a grade school handwriting class, “Cursive,” Markgraf as “Hannah before” stresses out over writing in a restrictive, masculine style; Cooke as “Hannah after” worries about writing “like my cousin Annie” with “generous loops” and “graceful swirls.”

For Cooke and Markgraf, “As One” was a revelation into gender behavior, especially in children.

“I didn’t really fully understand what it meant to be transgender and how early kids have the feeling that they’re in the wrong body. All of that really blew my mind,” said Cooke, who won a Grammy for her role in the Metropolitan Opera’s recording of John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic.”

“As One” required them to inhabit each other’s persona fully. One Hannah might be singing, for example, while the other is acting out the confused emotions underlying the song.

“Sometimes the person who’s not singing acts more,” Cooke said.

Being married proved to be advantageous in working that out.

“We’re so comfortable with each other,” she said. “We share one mind sometimes.”

Musically, “As One” is written in Kaminsky’s jazzy, contemporary style, played by a string quartet. It was a challenge for the singers but has proved accessible for listeners.

One of the tunes. “To Know,” has come to be considered the high point of the work. Sung by both performers, it expresses the excitement of discovering transgenderism for the first time.

Markgraf considers another song, “Perfect Boy,” in the first act, to be pivotal.

“It really goes to the heart of what forces are at play,” he said. “Hannah before is really truly trying to suppress and push down all of these things because of family influence and societal influence, because of all the inculcation that happens as we’re being raised. … It’s this repetitive ‘Push down, push down. No, I will not be seen this way, I will not feel this way.’”

Markgraf, who has performed as Hannah before in two other productions, said the work has provoked heartfelt, emotional responses, not only from transgender people, but people who knew little of the subject before experiencing the show.

Cooke added that people should not worry about feeling squeamish about the subject matter.

“I think a lot of people that come to this show expect or maybe wonder if they’ll be uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s quite the opposite. Transgender is merely an avenue to discuss accepting yourself. Any person, everybody can relate to that journey of, ‘What do I really want out of this life. Who am I?’”

By Steven Mark, The Star Advertiser TGIF

Star Advertiser TGIF: ‘Carmen’ themes ring true now

Look up the etymology of the name “Carmen” and you’ll find several definitions, from “song” (Latin) to “guard” (Hebrew) to “garden” (Spanish). But for the last 140 years or so, it’s really come to mean only one thing: George Bizet’s beloved opera, and the hot-blooded, seductress for which it is named.

Mezzo soprano Kate Aldrich, who portrays the gypsy siren in Hawaii Opera Theatre’s production opening Friday, thinks of Carmen as a modern woman.

“She’s very independent,” Aldrich said. “She’s very secure in who she is, and she has no problem with allowing herself to be vulnerable, to be honest. That is very attractive to people.”

Bizet’s work has proven indisputably attractive to opera lovers. Despite being panned by critics at its 1875 premiere, “Carmen” is one of the most frequently performed operas in the world. Many of its individual tunes, from Carmen’s slinky Habanera in the first act to the powerful Toreador Song of act two, have entered into the cannon of classical music.

The story, meanwhile, has proven timely and true to life, embodying love, jealousy and drama.

Presented by Hawaii Opera Theatre>> Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
>> When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
>> Cost: $29-$130
>> Info: 800-745-3000,

“‘Carmen,’ I think is very current,” said Aldrich, who has a sympathetic view of her character — comparing her to women who are victims of domestic violence in the present day, when men kill their partners over their desire to leave the relationship.

“It’s so often looked at as, ‘Carmen, this evil woman! She’s seducing these men and dropping them, and she made him do it. … It’s all Carmen’s fault.’ It’s not. That’s really an abusive mentality,” Aldrich said.

“CARMEN” TELLS the story of troubled soldier Don Jose, who is drawn to the gypsy Carmen. She falls in love with him, and also manipulates him to her own benefit at the same time.

It’s hardly a match made in heaven. Guest director Tara Faircloth calls them “the worst possible couple that you could put together.”

Carmen “does not want to be controlled,” Faircloth said. “She’s all about liberty and being who she is, and he’s all about wanting to control her.”

For Faircloth, the challenge of “Carmen” is not just in presenting an intense drama. “Carmen” is a “huge” production, requiring stellar performances from the entire cast.

“The chorus is on stage, like, 85 percent of the time,” she said. “There’s more chorus in Act One of ‘Carmen’ than there is in most other operas, and it’s realistic. It’s not like some operas, where they just walk on and hang (around), and be merry villagers and go away.”

Aldrich, who is playing the role for a fifth time, is fast becoming recognized as the Carmen of our time, winning accolades for bringing “raw emotion and defiant intensity to her singing,” as described in a 2010 New York Times review.

For the singer, the role is challenging and fun. Carmen’s famous Habanera, known properly as “Love is a rebellious bird,” is “tricky, because you are going through a couple different sections of the voice that we have what we call passaggios (breaks). It shifts through zones, so you have to move through them in a clever way,” she said.

Aldrich sees Carmen as a complex character who is tempting the tragic fate that her tarot cards portend.

“She’s playing around with how much wiggle room there is in her fate — in a sense seeing who’s more powerful, fate or her own essence,” Aldrich said. “So it is a game of cards, playing with fate.”

Tenor Kip Wilborn, who plays Don Jose, views his character as a man trying to escape his troubled past by joining the military.

“He’s the one who makes the emotional and dramatic journey from being someone who has made some mistakes and is trying to get his life back right,” Wilborn said. “Then insert Carmen, and things start unraveling.”

Jose’s big aria is the Flower Song in Act Two. It’s a touching tune in which he tells Carmen of how his feelings for her were kept alive by a flower she gave him: “And then he says ‘Carmen, I love you’ and she says ‘No, you don’t love me.’ And then she starts working her magic and pulling him in.”

COMPETING WITH Don Jose for Carmen’s attention is the bullfighter Escamillo, played by bass baritone Darren Stokes in his HOT debut.

“I get a parade and everything. I’ve never had a parade!” Stokes said.

Despite being considered, in modern terms, a “player,” Escamillo is still vulnerable to Carmen’s manipulations. “Carmen is like, ‘I notice you, but I want you to notice me.’ She entices him like she does Don Jose.”

Escamillo, of course, sings the Toreador Song, a particularly difficult tune for bass baritones because of its high range. For Stokes, who sang in church as a youth but did not take up singing formally until after college, it’s provided some important lessons.

“The very first time I sang the Toreador Aria, when I got finished I passed out. Did not know how to breathe,” he said. “You’d be surprised that confidence can get you so far in life. Now, whenever I sing this opera I think, ‘Is this the time I fall on my face?’ And then when it’s over, ‘Naah, I guess not.’”

With flawed characters ranging from the vixen Carmen to the weak-kneed Don Jose and studly Escamillo, a wholesome girl-next-door character seems to be called for. In “Carmen” it’s Micaela, portrayed by Talise Trevigne. She’s a friend from Don Jose’s past who tries to reconcile him with his family and winds up trying to protect him from Carmen.

Trevigne, last seen here in 2015 as Pamina in “The Magic Flute,” thinks her character is stronger than most observers believe.

“Most people see her as the wilting flower and they’re so sad for her, but it takes a lot of courage to travel a long way and enter a band of soldiers and stand up to muggers and gypsies,” Trevigne said. “She’s a girl of tough stuff.”

Bizet died a few weeks after “Carmen” premiered to severe criticism and even outrage, so one wonders what revisions he might have made have made to increase its popularity. The version that opera lovers heard for decades, in fact, was doctored up by a friend, Ernest Guiraud, who turned some of the spoken dialogue sections into recitative sections, said guest conductor Derrick Inouye. A more recent edition has reverted to spoken dialogue, which is how this production will be performed, he said.

The opera itself is “like a hit parade of well-known tunes,” said Inouye, an assistant conductor of The Met. “It’s guaranteed the audience will love the music.”

Yet “Carmen” is more than the sum of its hits, with a complex score that accompanies the intense drama.

“If it was just wonderful pieces, I don’t think it would be such a staple,” Inouye said.

By Steven Mark, The Star Advertiser TGIF

ThinkTech Hawaii with HOT

HOT On ThinkTech Hawaii

ThinkTech Hawaii founder Jay Fidell has featured HOT in three of his digital media platform’s videos this summer. Each informative video has featured an in-depth interview with a member of HOT. Watch them to learn more about opera in Hawaii and about our upcoming production of Bizet’s Carmen!

HOT Board Member Lynne Johnson talks Carmen

Coaching our Opera Stars

The Magic Of Producing an Opera

ThinkTech Hawaii, streaming live on the Internet from 11:00 to 5:00 pm every weekday afternoon, Hawaii Time, then streaming earlier shows through the night. ThinkTech Hawaii’s mission is to raise public awareness for a better Hawaii and to be the leading digital media platform promoting civic engagement in Hawaii. 

ThinkTech Hawaii is a Hawaii 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation founded in 2000 in order to provide a platform for civic engagement and raise public awareness about the importance of tech, energy, diversification and globalism to the future of Hawaii. ThinkTech offers simultaneous live stream audio broadcasts of its programs, which can be found at

Hawaii's Quinn Kelsey

Quinn Kelsey on the cover of Opera News

Quinn Kelsey talks upcoming roles, the music on his iPod, HOT, and more in his Opera News June Cover Feature!


Quinn Kelsey started singing opera in 1991, as a teenage chorister at Hawaii Opera Theatre. The Kelsey family is musical: his mother is a classically trained singer who worked as a choir director for more than twenty-five years. ‘My sister, Blythe, and I learned a ton of musicality singing in her choirs—she was giving us voice lessons in the middle of learning the music for next Sunday. There was a point where my sister was the soprano section, my dad was the tenor section, I was the bass section, and Mom kind of filled up the alto section and conducted at the same time. And whoever else decided to come into the choir that Sunday—great!’ Kelsey did his undergraduate degree in Hawaii, which allowed him to sing with Hawaii Opera Theatre and ‘gain all kinds of exposure in an environment where I felt at home.'” – Quinn Kelsey for Opera News.

Quinn has sung around the world, including in roles for the Metropolitan Opera, English National Opera, and Opéra National de Paris. He is an alumnus of the original Mae Z. Orvis Opera Studio class. In 2016, he returned home to sing the title role of Rigoletto in Concert with HOT. 

Karen Tiller Three Decembers

Karen Tiller on HPR’s The Conversation

Karen Tiller, the director of Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers, stopped by Hawaii Public Radio on Monday morning for The Conversation with Beth-Ann Kozlovich and Chris Vandercook.

Karen shared what she loves about the piece, how it’s different from other operas she’s directed, and she gave behind-the-scenes insights into the rehearsal process. 

It’s true to life. That’s one of the things that makes this production so interesting to me as a director. It’s very conversational, it’s very modern, and it’s very in-the-moment. It’s very much like our own families – good things and bad things. There’s dysfunction in every family, there’s secrets in every family, and the process of sort of peeling back the layers of relationships as we go through these three decades is very interesting dramatically… The audience will become engaged from the very beginning, because it feels real.” – Karen Tiller

Check out the podcast of the show online here!
HorLogoPlain copy


More on Karen Tiller:

Ms. Tiller has directed several critically acclaimed HOT productions including:  Susannah, Jun Kaneko’s Madama Butterfly, The Pearl Fishers, and the 2013 production of Turandot.  Other notable productions in her career include Sweeney Todd at HOT, The Turn of the Screw at Opera Memphis and Orpheo et Euridice at OFNJ. Before directing, Ms. Tiller served as HOT’s Executive Director for almost ten years, leaving that role in 2013 to take on the challenging position of mother to Sophia, adding Eli in 2016. In addition to directing for HOT, Karen serves as Treasurer for the national board of the Joyful Heart Foundation and sits on the board of the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific.  Ms. Tiller also serves as an Oahu Commissioner for the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.


Modern Luxury Hawai’i – Arts & Philanthropy Issue

SINGING OUT – For its 2016-2017 season, Hawaii Opera Theatre continues to break out of the mold. In January, HOT will debut Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, adapted by acclaimed composer and conductor André Previn. In March, HOT produces the Hawai’i debut of Three Decembers, a bold drama about an aging actress estranged from her children. Some of the reason behind this exciting new direction is Simon Crookall, who took the role of executive director in 2013 and was reappointed as general director this year. Part of his mission is to grow and diversify HOT’s audience. A Brit who sang with the King’s College Choir at Cambridge University, Crookall came to HOT after serving with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Crookall grew up in a musical family; now, his job involves bringing opera to young people. HOT does outreach on four islands, with HOT Express. Last year, HOT visited 73 elementary schools doing a mini-performance of The Magic Flute. At five elementary schools each year, HOT offers a more in-depth program where students learn to perform an existing opera, or create their own. In 2014, the opera organization started a junior studio for teens. HOT also opens up each performance’s final dress rehearsal for middle school and high school students. “When you have a company that has such high resources in terms of music and theater, it would remiss of us if we didn’t offer it to the community,” says Crookall, adding that HOT reaches about 25,000 students each year. For some students, he says, it sparks a passion for music, inspires a career or even instills a future HOT patron. To support this mission, the organization is having its annu8al Opera Ball Nov. 12. The Sheraton Waikiki will be transformed into glittering Paris, with a La Bohème theme.

Modern Luxury Hawai’i

Review – Women dominate strong cast in HOT’s superb ‘La Boheme’

Hawai‘i Opera Theatre opened its 2016-17 season with a charming production of Puccini’s “La Boheme” (“The Bohemians”), a tragic love story of universal appeal that is at once personal and epic.

In “La Boheme,” four starving young men — a poet (Rodolfo), painter (Marcello), philosopher (Colline) and musician (Schaunard) — are struggling to make their way as artists in the Latin quarter of Paris when Rodolfo falls in love with the gentle Mimi, who is dying of tuberculosis. Marcello and his sometime girlfriend, Musetta, provide high-spirited contrast, and the six form a tight-knit band of working-class comrades, anti-establishment bohemians embracing the fleeting passions of life amid a cruel world.

HOT’s production, designed by Erhard Rom (scenery), Peter Dean Beck (lighting), Kathleen Trott (costumes) and Sue Sittko Schaefer (wigs and makeup), took a traditional approach, matching the opera’s 1896 period with an apt and artful look that supported without intruding.

Scenes are framed by large, proscenium-high cityscapes on side panels in urban grays and browns, with the bohemians and Yuletide celebrations providing color. The stage is dominated by a large central “V” step that interrupts symmetrical rectangularity, much as bohemians disrupted social structure.

The basic set transforms for each act: a slanted garret window for the bohemians’ cozy but cold attic; a festivity of lanterns for the street cafe and bohemians’ high spirits; a snowy city gate and lonely lamppost for the lovers’ spats and nadir; and a final return home to the attic.

HOT’s design sidestepped grinding poverty in favor of a more romanticized, genteel poverty that was disrupted only by Colline peeing into the stairwell, which didn’t seem to fit with the tone of the rest.

HOT’s casting was especially strong, and although outnumbered, the women ruled.

Elizabeth Caballero is a wonderful Mimi: Her warm lyric soprano has a gentle tone and an impressively large expressive range, with both power and delicacy. She is also an excellent actress, and her Act III aria — “Addio senza rancor” (“Farewell, with no hard feelings”) — was moving.

Caballero outpowered her partner, Rodolfo, sung by Mackenzie Whitney, whose beautifully clear tenor was stretched by the role but created an appealing leading man. Their Act I “Che gelida manina” (“Such cold hands!”) was charming.

As Musetta, Rachelle Durkin has an equally strong soprano, but with a ringing, brighter tone and more of an edge, which lent spice to her character. She worked well with Wes Mason (Marcello) as the spirited, quarreling couple that kept things lively. Durkin’s “Musetta’s Waltz” was a high point, and her off-stage “come-hither” snippet from the tavern in Act III was especially entrancing.

Mason’s virile baritone paired equally well with Caballero’s soprano, which made them especially simpatico friends.

Nathan Stark (Colline) is a bear vocally and physically, which made his farewell ode to his coat especially comical; Michael Weyandt (Schaunard) shone in his Act I caper about poisoning the parrot; and Kevin J. Glavin blundered and blustered memorably as both Benoit and Alcindoro.

Local singers in the hubbub of Act II included Johnathan Sholtis as Parpignol, the toy vendor; brothers Michal and Karol Nowicki, originally from Poland; Ian McMillan; and the Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus.

Conductor Karen Keltner delivered an outstanding, carefully nuanced interpretation of “La Boheme.” Under her direction, the orchestra sounded excellent, and Keltner crafted a lovely dialogue between pit and stage, pacing the drama while giving singers room to soar.


Ruth O. Bingham received her doctorate in musicology from Cornell University and has been reviewing the musical arts for more than 25 years.