White Snake Projects’ I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams is the newest opera from creator and librettist Cerise Jacobs, premiering September 20-22 on the Robert J. Orchard Stage of Boston’s Emerson Paramount Theater. Composed by Jorge Sosa, the opera explores immigration, dislocation, and transformation in America.
In conjunction with the premiere, White Snake Projects has launched the new multi-year community engagement initiative SING OUT STRONG, designed to foster the creation of new songs on themes arising from the company’s mainstage operas. Also in the works is a collaboration between White Snake Projects and Juventas New Music Ensemble, a Boston-based incubator for promising musical pioneers that has had a season-long focus on American voices, perfectly dovetailing with the opera and the SING OUT STRONG initiative. The two organizations partnered earlier this month on Juventas’s “Voices of America” concert, an evening of new music that shared stories of immigrants and refugees and included a special preview of excerpts from the opera.
Directed by Elena Araoz and conducted by Maria Sensi Sellner, I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams tells the story of an undocumented Mexican immigrant, Rosa, a “dreamer” who is waiting in jail before being deported, and the relationship she develops with her court-appointed attorney, Singa, an ethnically Chinese immigrant from Indonesia. The cast was carefully chosen to reflect the ethnicities of the characters and to bring to the project a wide variety of perspectives on the immigrant experience.
Mezzo-soprano Carla López-Speziale—recognized for her “beautiful, warm voice with a secure and soft top and a powerful low register” (Basler Landschaftszeitung)—sings the role of Rosa, with soprano Helen Zhibing Huang, who participated in the development of Jacobs’s previous projects REV. 23 and Gilgamesh, as Singa. Kirsten Chambers puts her “arresting, gleaming, soprano” in the service of the three remaining characters: Mother, Gangster and Prosecutor.
Also central to the opera are the voices of children. At a time when the plight of immigrant children has become increasingly politicized, Dreamer allows the voices of the children themselves to be heard, as a commentary on and counterpoint to the struggles of the adults around them. Isis Contreras Perez portrays Rosa as a child, and Amy Li is the child Singa.
Social Activism Through Opera
The mission of White Snake Projects to integrate original opera with social activism leads the company to a variety of community relationships, which in the case of Dreamer have been with immigrant advocacy groups. SING OUT STRONG: Immigrant Voices has partnered with the Immigrant Learning Center (ILC), which provides free, year-round English classes to immigrant and refugee adults in Greater Boston, and, through its Public Education Institute and Institute for Immigration Research, informs the wider public about the economic and social contributions of immigrants in the United States.
Immigrant Voices is matching new or first-generation immigrant writers who live in Massachusetts with composers who are also new or first-generation immigrants, or who strongly identify with the immigrant experience. The resulting songs will be presented both throughout the community and to mainstage audiences, bridging the gulf that typically exists between a company’s operatic productions and its community and educational outreach activities.
Three venues around Boston are slated for free public performances of Immigrant Voices during the month of August: Villa Victoria, developed in the early 1970s in a predominantly Puerto Rican section of the South End; the Pao Performing Arts Center, opened in 2017 as an adjunct to the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center; and the Podcast Garage in Allston, dedicated to supporting the work of local audio producers and storytellers. The intent is to precede each performance with a panel discussion on immigration convened with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). At the Podcast Garage, the panel discussion will take place on a live podcast, followed by an outdoor concert in nearby arts hub Zone 3. Finally, Immigrant Voices will serve as a prologue to I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams on the Robert J. Orchard Stage of Boston’s Emerson Paramount Theater.
About White Snake Projects
White Snake Projects brings diverse, timely and relevant opera, based on original stories by Cerise Jacobs, to Boston’s main stages. Like the legendary White Snake demon who becomes human to live intensely, White Snake Projects transforms present-day experience into passionate new opera made in America. The company believes there is no better way to bridge the chasms of race, national origin and gender than through a reimagined art form combining cutting edge technology, music, theater, and dance. This ambitious strategy was kicked off with Ouroboros Trilogy, a trio of grand operas, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Madame White Snake, in September 2016 and continued with REV. 23 (2017), PermaDeath (2018), and I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams (2019).