I met with Laurie Rubin today to talk about her upcoming show with Liz Upchurch and Amplified Opera; The Way I See It. Laurie is a mezzo-soprano and she’s been blind since birth. All she can perceive visually is dark and light. We talked about her life growing up and as a professional singer and the upcoming show.
The bio is interesting going from a fairly toxic high school environment in Los Angeles where music was pretty much her salvation, to Oberlin where she first appeared on stage in actual opera to Yale Opera, which took her on the strength of her voice and then didn’t cast her in anything in her two years there (which clearly still hurts), and on to a professional career based in New York. She’s done a lot of new music including creating the role of the voice/witch in Lisa Bielawa’s episodic opera, Vireo, written for broadcast which aired in June 2017 on KCET Los Angeles and creating, with her wife Jenny Taira, an arts program in Hawaii; Ohana Arts, which in turn led to the creation of a musical Peace on Your Wings, about the life of a young Japanese girl who suffered from the Hiroshima bomb, which toured the Hawaiian islands and the US west coast. If all this, and performances too numerous to list, weren’t enough she wrote a book, Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight, which in turn became a one woman show. She has also recently become a mother.
In terms of the new show a series of coincidences led to Laurie getting in touch with Aria Umezawa who was already noodling on the idea for a series of staged shows about aspects of “otherness” in opera. Sadly, Aria’s husband suffers from a degenerative vision disorder so the fit was obvious to her. Roping in Liz Upchurch, also vision impaired, seemed an obvious move and so the genesis of The Way I See It came about.
The show is conceived as a hybrid of a TED talk and a recital and Laurie and Liz want it to be about themselves, with all that they are, in the music world rather than just about “blindness” although “deconstructing this whole blindness thing” is clearly part of the project. The hope is that their story will teach us as much or more about ourselves, society, compassion and acceptance as does it about them. That’s the theme of the other two shows at Amplified Opera this week too which deal with being gay and being non-white in the opera world. I’m feeling pretty energized about this!
Why am I writing this you might ask? Well Aria figured that the opera writer with one good eye and a history of vision problems might just fit. There’s a proverb about it I think.
The Way I See It by Laurie Rubin and Liz Upchurch, directed by Aria Umezawa, plays at 7.30pm on October 10th at Ernest Balmer Studio.