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The Pittsburgh premiere of 'Dreamer' opera seeks to put a human face on immigration

Maria Dominque Lopez (left) and Helen Huang in rehearsal for Resonance Works' "I Am A Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams."
Resonance Works
Maria Dominque Lopez (left) and Helen Huang in rehearsal for Resonance Works' "I Am A Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams."

In U.S. discussions of immigration, people often speak of immigrants, or even for them. But what migrants of different backgrounds might have to say to one another is the subject of an opera making its Pittsburgh premiere this week.

“I Am A Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams” depicts the relationship between two women: Rosa, a Mexican immigrant who is in jail and facing deportation, and Singa, her Indonesian-born attorney. Discussions of race, class, identity and privilege swirl through the 90-minute opera staged by Resonance Works, with performances Fri., Oct. 14, and Sun., Oct. 16, at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, in Carnegie.

“To me, it’s a story of two women who have a lot of assumptions about each other at the beginning, and over the course of getting to know each other they are kind of forced to confront their own assumptions and biases, and actually realize that they have a lot, a lot in common,” said Estefanía Fadul, the show’s Colombian-born stage director.

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The opera might seem especially topical following the recent news that the governors of Florida, Texas and Arizona have been sending thousands of undocumented migrants to other states, apparently under false pretenses. But its roots lie in the inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric that marked the 2016 election cycle, says its Mexican-born composer, Jorge Sosa.

Sosa and Singapore-born librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs co-wrote the story, which draws on real-life threats to the residency status of undocumented child immigrants to the U.S. who were allowed to remain under the immigration policy known as DACA. The same population is sometimes called “Dreamers” because of the proposed federal DREAM Act, which would provide a path to permanent residency.

Both Rosa and Singa are 34 and came to the U.S. as 10-year-old children. Rosa now has a 10-year-old daughter whom she neither wants to leave alone in the U.S. or force to return to Mexico. Singa, who is ethnically Chinese, was part of a family that fled Indonesia due to rising anti-Chinese sentiment there.

The opera debuted in 2019, in Boston. Sosa, who’s based in New York City, said he wanted to humanize the debate over immigration.

“I think that’s the goal, is to put faces and names and circumstances to the narrative, so that it’s not only talking about abstract numbers, and demographics, and statistics, but really about people, people like Rosa, people like Singa, people like myself,” he said.

Rosa is sung by Maria Dominque Lopez, a Mexican-American mezzo-soprano. Singa is played by Helen Huang, a Chinese-born soprano who originated the role in Boston.

The story takes place mostly in Rosa’s cell, though there are also flashbacks to the women’s childhoods. The production also features soprano Natalie Polito in multiple roles and the 16-member Pittsburgh Youth Choir.

Sosa said his score draws on contemporary classical music but also Asian and Mexican folk music, such as the boleros Rosa sings when reminiscing about her life.

More information on the show is here.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: