For 102 seasons, the Cincinnati Opera—America’s second oldest opera company—has offered great summer productions of classic works, and in recent seasons, has added world premieres of innovative commissioned operas.  This season is no exception. William Menefield and Sheila Williams – both with personal ties to the region – have perfected FIERCE, a compelling new work that brings real-life stories to the operatic stage and another feather in the Cincinnati Opera’s cap

Mezzo-soprano Megan Graves (Rumer), soprano Victoria Ellington (Nyomi), soprano Alicia Russell (Morgan), and mezzo-soprano Lauren McAllister (Vesta) Photograph by Phillip Groshong

Novelist Sheila Williams interviewed several high schoolers to then create the opera’s vivid libretto based on their real-life stories, interspersed with pathos and humor in equal measures. Composer William Menefield crafted a brilliant musical score that incorporates both contemporary harmonies, jazz-inflected riffs, some funky Cuban salsa, and traditional vocal music.   Williams and Menefield’s FIERCE promises to become a welcome addition to the lyric stage of today.

In Williams’ and Menefield’s one-act operatic gem, Nyomi, Morgan, Rumer, and Vesta–all high school age students—take a workshop on creative writing. Their teacher encourages each of the young women to tell the others about their lives. One mourns the death of a loved one, another faces the challenges of living up to parental expectations. One faces a dysfunctional home life, while another goes through life hiding her true self from the world. The four young women unite and take up the challenge. Inspired by their writing and sharing their fears and dreams, they begin a journey toward betterment and acceptance of their authentic selves.

Four enormously gifted young singing actresses play the roles of the four girls: mezzo-soprano Megan Graves (Rumer), soprano Victoria Ellington (Nyomi), soprano Alicia Russell (Morgan), and mezzo-soprano Lauren McAllister (Vesta).

In a terrific comic turn, mezzo-soprano Wendy Hill is their clueless and less-than-inspiring teacher. Mezzo-soprano Indra Thomas, tenor M. Andrew Jones, and baritone Antonio Cruz effectively portray multiple roles, including the “trolls” that embody the negative people impeding the young students’ path to betterment.

Conductor Joseph Young and stage director D. Lynn Meyers are the accomplished creative team, helming this intriguing new work that has been brought to life in collaboration with community partners WordPlay Cincy, The Music Resource Center of Cincinnati, and i.imagine. The production design of Samantha Reno (sets), Thomas C. Hase (lighting) and Jessica Drayton (projections) is colorful and effective.

With the production of FIERCE the Cincinnati Opera, guided by Evans Mirageas, its Harry T. Wilks Artistic Director, continues its ongoing commitment to the commissioning and production of new works for the lyric stage, a praiseworthy effort that re-energizes and enriches opera with narratives that deal with current issues relevant to our world.

Rafael de Acha © 2022

Additional performances of FIERCE are on July 9 at 3:00 pm and July 10 at 7:30 pm, both at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts’ Corbett Theatre. Tickets: (513) 241-2742.

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