Music by: Kamala Sankaram
Libretto by: Kathleen Kelly and Michael Kelly
Originally Commissioned by Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, upcoming 2025
Centered around a dysfunctional family in a wealthy suburb of Washington D.C., Mrs. Pascal’s oldest son Marty is coming from New York City to visit for Thanksgiving. His twin sister, Jackie-O and younger brother, Anthony, eagerly await his arrival, but all are thrown when he arrives with a guest... his new fiancée, Lesly. We soon discover that Jackie-O was recently released from a mental facility. All are concerned that Lesly’s presence will send Jackie-O back over the edge. The evening falls further into chaos when the power goes out from the approaching hurricane. Thanksgiving dinner is ruined and everyone begins to find their way to the truth in the candlelit confusion. The biggest reveal of them all?... an incestuous game the twins play, reinacting the assasination of John F. Kennedy.
Lesly - Soprano
Jackie O - Mezzo-soprano
Mrs. Pascal - Mezzo-soprano
Anthony - Tenor
Marty - Lyric-Baritone
My first encounter with Wendy MacLeod’s “The House of Yes” was through the 1997 film adaptation starring Parker Posey. It stuck with me for many reasons: its darkly absurdist comedy, its depiction of the entitlement of certain members of the upper class, and most importantly, for its anti-heroine, Jackie-O. It was the first time I had seen a female character who was allowed to be brilliant, sarcastic, unhinged, and utterly unlikeable. She was and is a diva of epic proportions. So when Michael and Kathy asked if I would be interested in turning this play into an opera, my answer was an enthusiastic YES!
You may wonder at the continued relevance of a play that premiered almost twenty years ago, particularly in the era of Fleabag and other notable unlikeable female protagonists. To which I would point you toward MacLeod’s original subtitle: A Suburban Jacobean Play. Jacobean theater is characterized by darker themes than those found in Renaissance theater. There is quite a bit of violence, sexuality, and a lot of political cynicism. It’s a mirror of the world around it. And we are still living in the celebrity obsessed culture that existed in 1997. If anything, it has deepened with the impact of social media. Beyond that, the gap between the moneyed classes (like Jackie-O and the entire Pascal clan) and the rest of us has gotten wider as income inequality has continued to skyrocket. The bubble of privilege has become harder to penetrate. MacLeod described this bubble as “people who have cut themselves off from the rest of the world and are living by the rules they've invented.” Increasingly, those rules have ramifications for the world outside of the bubble with the impact of climate change and the influence of money on our current political crises. As in Jacobean times, art continues to hold a mirror up to the society in which it was created, and this play is sadly still very relevant.
I believe that the impact of the play will be heightened by setting it to music. As audience members, it is easier to distance ourselves from unlikable characters when they are simply speaking. But music creates a powerful emotional connection that can make us feel for even the most terrible villain. Removing the distance between us and them implicates us in their actions. I hope that this opera will renew conversations about the nature of extreme wealth and privilege, as well as conversations about addressing this very timely problem.