Opera Santa Barbara presents ‘An American Dream’ on February 18 | Credit: Philip Newton

For the next installment of a rich and varied season for Opera Santa Barbara (OSB), on Saturday, February 18, at the Lobero Theatre, attentions turn away from standard opera repertory toward a respected contemporary opera with lingering racial resonances.

The one-act opera An American Dream, written by composer Jack Perla from a libretto by Jessica Murphy Moo, was commissioned by the Seattle Opera and premiered in 2015. It takes place in the Northwest — Puget Sound, to be specific — but with far-reaching implications, ethnically and historically. The saga relates to the complicated fates and family tragedies of incarcerated Japanese-Americans and a German Jewish woman fleeing the ravages of Nazi Germany, concerned about life in the home she was forced to leave.

Perla is a contemporary composer with opera as one of his primary points of focus, and he is known for incorporating aspects of classical and jazz in his work. His previous operas include Shalimar the Clown (a 2016 adaptation of a Salman Rushdie novel) and Jonah & the Whale (a 2014 commission by L.A. Opera).

The Seattle Times’ review of the 2015 premiere of An American Dream noted its use of minimalist and impressionistic musical flavors and generally cited it as “a gripping piece of musical theater.”

For this Santa Barbara production, the lead roles are played by singers involved with the company’s resourcefully valiant life during the pandemic. Nina Yoshida Nelsen, a Santa Barbara native last heard here in OSB’s double-header of Il Tabarro/El Amor Brujo, in 2021, reprises the role of Hiroko, which she debuted in the Seattle premiere. Mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock, from the 2019 production of The Crucible and the Carmen in Your Car “drive-in opera” production in 2021, appears in the role of the German Jewish woman Eva Crowley, while baritone Ben Lowe (from last year’s Tosca) plays Eva’s American husband.Kostis Protopapas, OSB’s intrepid general and artistic director, commented, “An American Dream is a piece I’ve wanted to do for a long time and fulfills our company’s pledge to produce one American opera each season. It’s an American opera with tragic cross-cultural dimensions and timeless history lessons attached.”

Opera Santa Barbara performs An American Dream at the Lobero Theatre Saturday, February 18, at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. For more information and tickets, please visit operasb.org/performances/an-american-dream/.


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