Review: Lyric Opera of the North’s ‘Heroes’, a brilliant new contribution to the Decameron project

Opera song

Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, when opera could no longer perform live, nine US companies collaborated on new opera shorts in “Tales From a Safe Distance.”

This year’s Decameron film offering, “Heroes,” features seven world-premiering one-act shorts presented in three episodes. They are framed by a magnificent cycle of art songs with original music by Peter Hilliard and libretto by Matt Boresi, and beautifully sung by soprano Karen Slack.

The introductory note “Heroes” reads: “Our diverse collection of creators explores the meaning of heroism and the profile of unsung, unconventional or misunderstood heroes from different eras and geographies.”

Performed in three episodes, Loon’s offer was part of the first episode, “Answer the Call”. “The Place”, masterfully directed by Atlese Robinson, has a mythical and mysterious atmosphere where Enitan (James Dargan) films the meeting of two generations of black women, Olive (Marquita Lister) and Nia (Mikalia Bradberry).

A haunting score by composer Maria Thompson Corley and evocative lyrics by librettist Sandra Gbeinor Oyinloye are sung and performed to perfection by the trio Dargan, Lister and Bradberry.

According to Oyinloye, “The Place” focused on three modern day heroes, existing authentically with a desire to change culture in their own way. Many people have inspired each character because there are many heroes in our community. In the end, I chose three people who inspired and trusted me with their experiences and stories as heroes to shed light on our heroes.

Set on a windswept day, with the waves of Lake Superior crashing onto the lonely beach, the atmospheric film creates a mythical and mysterious vibe. The past meets the present in a tale which is noted in the program as “a story that emphasizes the heroic act of existing while imparting strength, encouragement, healing and stories to the next generation.”

Olive is there to pass her wisdom on to Nia and Enitan, who are unsure of how to navigate a cultural, political and social landscape that spins faster and often on an unstable axis. Olive tells them that they are “her hope” and that they “have what it takes to change the world”.

Nia is moved to take up the torch of freedom and equality. Enitan decides that he will not only be a history recorder, but must also participate in the unity necessary to approach a new day.

Betsy Husby’s musical ensemble (cello); Greg Kehl Moore (saxophone) and Henry Eichman (marimba, vibraphone and percussion) wonderfully accompany the three exceptional voices.

Congratulations also to the production team of Don Schraufnagel, orchestral sound engineer; Bill Munson, sound engineer; Daniel Oyinloye, videographer; and Ora Jewell-Busche, costume designer and stylist.

LOON’s Sarah Lawrence and Cal Metts continue to be heroes in finding new and creative ways to bring incredible talent and voices to audiences, not only in Northland, but opera audiences everywhere.

One of Enitan’s words says, “To survive we must believe / there is power in our history.” The stories of the Decameron Project convincingly demonstrate this undeniable truth.

If you are going to”:

What: “hero” operas

Where: Streaming until December 31

Cost: $ 15 for all three episodes


Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews performances for the Duluth News Tribune.