Opera is theater; opera can be about anything; opera can be in English; and opera can even be based on self-help manuals of the 1950s. “Positions 1956,” by the composer Conrad Cummings (“Golden Gate”) and the Tony-nominated lyricist/librettist Michael Korie (“Grey Gardens;” “The Grapes of Wrath”), starts with sex, moves to physical fitness, and ends with ballroom dancing – tracing a newlywed couple’s efforts to improve their lives with the help of written instructions. Charles Atlas? Arthur Murray? These are the archetypes of our recent past – of course they’re the stuff of opera. And you can see a sneak preview at Artisphere tonight.
The work was commissioned by the company Urban Arias, which aimed high with its first festival season last year (the soprano Elizabeth Futral in Ricky Ian Gordon’s “Orpheus and Euridice”) and, by presenting a world premiere by nationally recognized artists, is aiming no less high with its second (“Positions 1956” will have its official world premiere on April 13th as one of three operas in the festival). Urban Arias is devoted to short contemporary American work – “nothing over 90 minutes,” runs its policy, and nothing older than the company’s founder, director, and conductor, Robert Wood, “who, for these purposes, is 35.” Wood is certainly showing that even on a budget of around $100,000, you can commission new work. Hear that, Washington National Opera? Oh, I guess they did; Urban Arias is involved as a partner with WNO’s New American Works project.
The workshop performance of “Positions 1956” takes place in the Ballroom at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Boulevard, on Wednesday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $17.