Warning: this film features visual effects that could be unsuitable for photosensitive viewers.
The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2019, the opera Prism by the US composer Ellen Reid is a hallucinatory exploration of the relationship between a mother and her daughter in the wake of a sexual assault. Teetering from reality to abstraction, at the work’s centre is the tension between the impulse to bury trauma and the need to confront the past to heal. Part of Los Angeles Opera’s ‘On Now’ short film series, which was created in response to the live performance shutdowns of 2020, the short film Lumee’s Dream is adapted from an aria in the opera’s second act in which the mother, Lumee, reflects on a dream in which she sacrifices herself to protect her daughter from the harms of the outside world.
Translating the expansive stage production to the small screen, the US directors James Darrah and Adam Larsen use the format to generate an absorbing, and indeed prismatic, visual display. Beginning with the stark simplicity of two female figures set against a black background, the bodies begin to echo and mirror with increasing intensity as the music builds. Moving in rhythm with the plaintive string score, their figures ripple into kaleidoscopic shapes that morph between recognisably human and preternatural. In a refrain, the vocalist Rebecca Jo Loeb sings in a powerful, poignant mezzo-soprano: ‘I had my favourite dream last night.’ This melodic repetition, paired with the surreal visuals, feels both comforting and haunting.
Evoking the protective instincts of a mother, the lyrics, even excerpted from the original libretto by Roxie Perkins, weave a story of vulnerability in the face of uncertainty and pain. And beyond the words, the work’s emotions are carried through the forms of opera and experimental film. The swells of Loeb’s voice and the strings convey inner tumult, and the ethereal visuals summon the hazes of dream and memory. Working from the forced constraints of the COVID-19 lockdowns, the creative team crafts a richly disorienting, deeply original fusion of art forms.
Written by Adam D’Arpino
Composer: Ellen Reid
Librettist: Roxie Perkins
Website: Los Angeles Opera