DULUTH — Lyric Opera of the North had a problem. Two weeks before rehearsals for their fall production, the company had to replace half of its two-person show.
“It happens,” said Sarah Lawrence, General Artistic Director of LOON. “You have a plan and the plan isn’t working.”
That’s when the conductor called New York baritone Lucas Bouk, who at the time was playing the same role in the same show in Colorado.
“On the phone he said, ‘I’m already off the book for both roles,'” Lawrence recalled, meaning he didn’t need the script to rehearse.
“It’s really tough music,” she said, so finding someone in a time crunch, who was in the middle of the same production and comes highly recommended by the conductor is amazing. , she continued.
“As One” opens at 7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays at Clyde Iron Works, 2920 W Michigan St.
In it, two actors play a transgender protagonist on her journey of self-discovery.
Georgia Jacobson, originally from Duluth, sings mezzo soprano in the role of Hannah After. And, Bouk will sing baritone like Hannah Before – but before the transition Bouk performed mezzo soprano – a rarity in opera and a surprise to Bouk himself.
“I never imagined that my new voice would be able to sing something like this, fill a room and flow through the orchestra,” he said.
Ahead of Friday night’s dress rehearsal, Bouk pondered performing “As One” in a different role, with a different voice.
Previously, Bouk struggled to relate to a character feeling happy and whole after transitioning. “It was both exhilarating and really empowering.
“I had just come out as a trans man. I was looking for myself. I had to imagine what it would be like to be happy,” Bouk said.
It’s easier today to describe Hannah’s childhood and self-discovery – personally and professionally. “I’m not transitioning anymore, I’m finally stable, finally happy and my voice is stable, my life is stable,” he said.
Bouk is among the trans artists at the forefront of this production which includes librettist opera makers Kimberly Reed, composer Laura Kaminsky, conductor Alexandra Enyart.
Opera has genre fluidity in its roots as well as a history of pushing the musical genre forward.
“When 20th-century composers wanted to suggest androgyny, deviation, or any other ambiguity on the operatic stage, they had a fertile tradition to draw on,” according to The New York Times.
Although he pushed the boundaries, his stories are often still cisgender heterosexual, so it’s unique, said Mark Hakes, a Hannah Before stunt double and production consultant.
It’s become a status symbol, but opera is meant to be accessible art that tells real stories – which “As One” does. “As a trained classical singer and as a trans person and a member of our Duluth community, this is the first time I’ve been to an opera to see a story similar to mine on stage,” Hakes said.
“As One” is performed in English with surtitles; and it features a string quartet with Erin Aldridge of Duluth and Mary Alice Hutton on violin; David Arnott on viola; and Betsy Husby on cello. Duluth comedian Danielle Thralow will lead a Q&A after the performance.
General admission is $32, available at loonopera.org/events/as-one. (There’s an eight-minute scene of violence that’s followed by “a satisfying finale depicting the joy of trans self-realization,” according to LOON’s website.)
“As One” premiered in 2014 at the Brooklyn Academy of Musicals, and is now the most produced new opera in North America.
Bouk was at this very first production, “before I came out of myself”. The show was one of the only trans stories in the world of opera, making it a life-changing experience.
Bouk came out trans in 2017 and decided to dub the mezzo soprano role for free. He finally performed Hannah After in 2019 in San Antonio, Texas, and then again this fall in New York.
“My parents came to see it and it really helped them understand my background, I have a personal connection to the piece,” he said.
When work stopped during the COVID-19 shutdowns, Bouk was established professionally, but decided to start transitioning with hormone therapy and retraining her voice.
It’s a whole new instrument, says Bouk.
His voice remained intact the first seven months, a serious extension surfaced. He gradually began to sing one-octave Italian art songs to stabilize his voice.
After a year of testosterone, Bouk had to learn to read music again. He had gone to work solo before LOON called him. “I thought it would take at least two years to have a working instrument. Instead, I’m in Duluth singing,” he said.
Lawrence saw “As One” performed in the cities about five years ago and immediately knew she wanted to bring it to Northland.
“It really is opera — it’s passionate, dramatic and deeply personal. Plus, there are so many access points where we can experience all parts of the human experience,” she said.
While this show spotlights a transgender protagonist, the word “transgender” is never spoken.
In the opera, Hannah flips through a catalog, noting transatlantic travels, transfiguration, Transylvania before finding the magic word, Bouk said.
Asked about this omission, he added:
“It was written in 2014, and a lot has changed since then. It was an important piece and it still is, but as a member of the trans community, I also hope for more trans stories and more representation of trans women, trans males and non-binary performers on stage .
“It’s a starting point,” added Hakes, and more inclusive performing arts, telling stories from all angles and from different identities, are coming.
- What: “As One” from the Opéra Lyrique du Nord
- When: 7 p.m. Monday to Tuesday
- Where: Clyde Iron Works, 2920 W Michigan St.
- Cost: $32 general admission; $45 reserved table; $12 student tickets
- Information: loonopera.org/events/as-one/