Michael Gordon and Deborah Artman
Part horror-movie soundtrack, part Minimalist cantata, and part rock opera, Acquanetta is the score to the multimedia, experimental opera by that name that was staged last summer at Bard SummerScape. Clanging, distorted electric guitars are met by hounding, pulsing strings, the high-pitched blare of a choir, and a soprano imploring "Please don't take my brain." (Don't I know that feeling.) Based upon the real-life title character, who enjoyed B-movie fame from the early 1940s through the early 1950s, the story is set within a scene from Captive Wild Woman, in which Acquanetta (born Mildred Davenport) starred as a mad scientist's gorgeous creation, the result of an experiment fusing an ape and a "Brainy Woman."
Soprano Mikaela Bennett soars as Acquanetta, and the rest of the cast, plus the Bang on a Can Opera Ensemble and members of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, bring drama and precision to their roles. Bang on a Can cofounder Michael Gordon wrote the art-rock score—think Glenn Branca meets Philip Glass—providing the perfect vehicle for the equally Minimalist and occasionally comic libretto by Deborah Artman, who lives in Greene County. Acquanetta's own origins—was she a Native American from Wyoming? A Mexican? An African-American woman from Norristown, Pennsylvania?—are obscured by history, which perfectly suits this exploration of changing identities, even though the character of the Director repeatedly intones, "I know you want everything to be clear and simple as black and white." Well, it just isn't.