A classic comedic opera was given a new lease on life, thanks to Opera MODO. The Detroit arts organization is known for reinventing opera for a new audience and rethinking the way these stories get told. Their latest endeavor translated Gaetanno Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” into a story of queer acceptance and solidarity, titled “D[x]n Pasquale.” Two of the show’s organizers joined CultureShift in the studio last week.
Pat Roache was the director for this production. They said the two-year delay brought on by the pandemic gave them a unique opportunity to meticulously incorporate more of their own experiences into the new translation of the show.
“So much of this is about visibility for me. And not just for me. If there’s one thing that I want people to take away from seeing this show, it is a queer perspective or a queer identity that they either hold a taboo of, have never really thought about or just don’t have knowledge of, and can leave treating it a little bit more as a normal part of life and society.”
Inclusion and accessibility are at the forefront of MODO’s values. The organization uses an app that displays subtitles for any non-English dialogue in their performances. For this show, they used it to define words or phrases that audience members may not be as familiar with. For example, kink: a non-standard sexual practice or interest.
“So anyone who thinks that kink is this horrible, terrible, scary thing can see [its definition] from Marriam-Webster’s dictionary and be like, ‘Oh, I have one of those! I trust that source, and that’s not scary at all!’”
Danielle Wright is the founder and executive director of Opera MODO. They said the organization strives to have audience members of all types represented onstage. From polyamory to nonbinary familial dynamics, this show speaks to a wide range of experiences.
“To me, that’s what art is for. We want to see ourselves. It’s part of the healing, it’s part of the growth that you see yourself actually represented onstage. And unfortunately, with the medium of opera, that’s not necessarily what it is right now.”
Although their summer season has closed, their work is far from over.
“What we’re really trying to figure out is, how do we maintain these amazing works that are already existing in beautifully written ways, but then update the story to make them relevant and modern and accessible and interesting to this generation and generations to come?”
While other opera companies are only just starting to modernize their content in small doses, MODO has been doing radical transformative work for over ten years. Wright says this ability to adapt is vital to the longevity of their art form.
“We have to keep pushing it forward, and if we don’t, to me, the medium’s gonna die.”
And their approach is working. Xe affectionately refers to MODO as “the gateway drug of opera.” Their original updates bring younger audiences in, overcoming the assumption that opera as a whole is an antiquated medium, and then those audience members are more willing to give other operas a chance where they wouldn’t have otherwise.
“It’s part of the healing, it’s part of the growth that you see yourself actually represented onstage. And unfortunately, with the medium of opera, that’s not necessarily what it is right now.” — Danielle Wright, Opera MODO
In addition to overcoming stereotypes in the eyes of their audience, MODO also hopes to overcome expectations regarding what it means to be an artist. Wright says that settling down with a family and benefits is often not conducive with the lifestyle of an opera singer, and xyr organization works to challenge that in Detroit.
“I fell in love with all these incredible performers who want this to be their home base… And I wanted them to be able to sink their teeth into their artistry and keep evolving and growing, because that’s still success as an artist.”
Roache says MODO’s creative community ranges from current students at Wayne State to seasoned, established professionals from Detroit and afar. And as for the greater Detroit art scene, they compare it to a Petri dish – as a compliment, of course.
“The bacteria that you’re growing in there is funky and weird and wild and cool and it doesn’t need to be held back.”
Wright says the Detroit art scene is as inclusive as it is active.
“The world is your oyster. Literally everybody here is represented. If you’re interested in something, you can find it. And if you can’t, then you just need to ask. Somebody somewhere knows something amazing that’s going on here at all times.”
It seems that Opera MODO will be contributing something amazing to the city for years to come.
Listen: Opera MODO’s Danielle Wright and Pat Roache talk transforming opera, changing industry