Arts

This Opera Delivers A Modern Message

Set in 1862, ‘Proving Up’ Reflects 2020 Struggles
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The Pasadena Opera will present the Los Angeles-area premiere of “Proving Up” on the intimate Boston Court Stage on the Fridays and Saturdays of Jan. 17-18 and 24-25.

Based on the short story by Karen Russell, “Proving Up” is an 80-minute chamber opera by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Navrek. The production is part of L.A. Opera’s Eurydice Found Festival — a county-wide festival of performances, conversations and happenings.

“Proving Up” tells the tale of Americans in Nebraska trying to gain title to their land under the provisions of the Homestead Act of 1862. The ghost story is a fitting allegory for many contemporary American families who are learning the hard way that desire and hard work do not guarantee the attainment of the American Dream.

“What’s great about this story is that it tells the tale of the American Dream from two perspectives: a very real, grounded look at how hard life was for homesteaders in the 1860s, and a more magical, other-worldly realm where that dream gets pulled apart,” said Dana Sadava, conductor and artistic director of Pasadena Opera.

“Missy Mazzoli, the composer, uses the orchestra almost like a painter’s palette, setting different moods as we go from one world to another.”

Pasadena Opera was founded in 2014 by Sadava, a Pasadena local, and Indre Viskontas, a neuroscientist, professional soprano and the company’s creative director. Together, the founders share a vision of telling great stories in which audience members recognize their own experiences, using innovative technology and the lush music of opera.

“There’s never been a better time to tell this story,” said Viskontas, who is also the stage director for this show.

“In an election year, we take the time to think about what kind of a country we want to build together. But hopes and dreams aren’t enough to pull many Americans out of the cycle of poverty, and we need to consider the costs of ‘Proving Up,’ not only financially but also in terms of our morals and values. Here’s an opera that gives us the opportunity to empathize with and reflect on both the struggles and the generosity of economically depressed families in rural
America.”

For the first time ever, Pasadena Opera is partnering with Boston Court Pasadena, a contemporary performing-arts center in Pasadena that focuses on bold, eclectic productions.

“Boston Court is the perfect space for this piece,” Sadava said. “It’s modern and intimate, just like the opera. The characters are complex and our singers are terrific actors, so we want the audience to be able to enjoy that. Opera is wonderful close up.”

The upcoming performances start at 8 p.m. at Boston Court Pasadena, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Tickets cost between $35 and $70 per person. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit pasadenaopera.org.

Kamala Kirk

Kamala Kirk is a contributing writer for the South Pasadena Review, San Marino Tribune and The Quarterly Magazine. Kamala formerly served as Managing Editor of Beauty Launchpad Magazine, West Coast Editor of American Salon Magazine, and Digital Editor for E! Online. A native of Hermosa Beach, California, she is a proud USC Trojan and pug mom to Wrigley the Pug (@pugofpasadena).

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