Wall Street Journal critic writes that the new opera about the Great Franklinton Flood of 1913 should be of interest beyond Columbus.
Commissioning a new opera is a bold move under any circumstances, but commissioning an opera based on local history may be particularly risky. What will be the lifespan of the piece? Will it be of interest beyond the city it spotlights?
These questions surely occurred to Opera Columbus director Peggy Kriha Dye and ProMusica director Janet Chen when they decided to collaborate in creating and producing “The Flood.” (You can read our 2018 story on how “The Flood” came together here.) The chamber opera, which recounts the impact of the 1913 flood that leveled Franklinton on three fictitious families over a span of a century, had its world premiere at the Southern Theatre last weekend. So it was satisfying for the opera’s backers to see an enthusiastic review of the production in, of all publications, The Wall Street Journal.
The WSJ opera critic, Heidi Waleson, called “The Flood” “a remarkably sophisticated piece of storytelling.” She went on to praise the libretto, the score and the performers, as well as the clarity of a complex storyline that plays out “like three-dimensional chess” across four rooms that are adjacent on the set but separated by decades in time.
Kriha Dye says that her exhilarating weekend of performances also included meetings with artistic directors from other opera companies in town to view the show. She’ll be marketing it to others in coming weeks and months, and she feels confident that “The Flood” will get picked up eventually by other companies and have a life beyond this week’s performances at the Southern.
“There was interest at a high level even before the show was created,” she says, pointing out that OPERA America, the national opera center in New York, was behind the show from the outset, providing a female composers’ grant to support the work of Korine Fujiwara in creating the score.
Waleson says she traveled to Columbus to view the show because she takes an interest in new operas and because of her respect for Stephen Wadsworth, who wrote the libretto and directed. Waleson is the author of the 2018 book, "Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America.”
“I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Peggy Kriha Dye is a dynamo and has out-of-the-box ideas about what opera companies need to do today,” Waleson wrote in an email.
“New works have a history of debilitating opera companies,” Kriha Dye says, because of their great cost. But raising the $500,000 needed for “The Flood” was “almost easy.” Kriha Dye attributes that in part to the combined efforts of ProMusica and Opera Columbus. The commission and production were supported with a total of $225,000 from the Columbus Foundation, as well as grants from the Ohio Arts Council, Greater Columbus Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts and many individuals, she says.
Ticket sales also were robust; “The Flood” was one of the company’s best-selling shows in years.
Waleson’s review suggested “The Flood” will be of interest beyond Columbus. “While the place names in the piece—Franklinton, the Scioto Mile, Poindexter Village—may resonate specifically with local listeners, the larger themes, and the inclusion of African-American characters, should give "The Flood" a reach beyond its parochial borders.”
As composer Fujiwara said in a conversation with the other creators that was transcribed and distributed as a program insert at the performances (you can read it here), the core theme of the story is universal: how trauma plays out in our lives, often traversing generations. “The experience of trauma is global, it’s part of human existence,” she said. “In one way or another, we will all, at some point, experience our own personal ‘flood,’ and we all have to wrestle with it. How do we get to the other side of it?”
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