When As One premiered in 2014, the opera – a coming of age story about a young woman named Hannah – dazzled audiences with a soaring score from Laura Kaminsky and a libretto from Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed (partially based on the latter’s experiences) that emphasized deft humor as much as the thrill of becoming your true self.
Since then it has become the most-performed new opera in America, and it recently exceeded its Kickstarter goal to fund an original cast recording of As One, out June 28, tied into the upcoming 50th anniversary of Stonewall – fitting, as trans activists were a key part of the landmark LGBTQ riots.
During As One‘s recent run at NYC’s Merkin Hall, where two different casts brought the opera to life on alternating nights, the singers who portray Hannah stopped by Billboard’s offices to share their thoughts about As One and its inherent, relatable humanity.
“It’s told through two singers and a string quartet. The two singers are Hannah Before and Hannah After. However, it’s not really that simple – nobody is playing one side or the other, we are playing both sides all the time,” explains Blythe Gaissert, who plays Hannah After.
“In the most positive way, it’s the two sides of every person,” says Michael Kelly, who portrays Hannah Before.
Briana Elyse Hunter, who also portrays Hannah After, explains how she, as a straight cis woman, researched and spoke to people in the trans community to prepare for this: “It’s a human story, and the whole point is, we’re all people.”
Kelly also spoke to the empowerment that accompanies living your truth. “When you come out of the closet, it feels like you’re going to lose everything you’ve built until that point, but once you do it, you realize how life-affirming it is,” he says.
“Courage is transcribed fear,” says Jorell Williams, who also portrays Hannah Before. “Unity is what we’re looking for, and we’re now in a time when we have become the evolution and the change for that to be our reality — and there is power in that.”
Support the project here and watch the full cast interview above.