Music by Missy Mazzoli, Libretto by Royce Vavrek
Opera Las Vegas- UNLV's Black Box Theatre; September 2022
Direction: Audrey Chait
Maestro: Joshua Horsch
Lighting Design: Catherine M. Pratt
Scenic Design: Whitney Lehn Meltz
Costume Design: Abby Street
Photography: Whitney Lehn Meltz
Based on the short story by Karen Russell, Proving Up shows us what happens when obsession and greed take over our lives. Set in Nebraska in the 1870s, we join the Zegner family as they work to prove up to the deed of the land they have settled on. After five years, they have the five years of harvest and a sod house. All this is left is to have a window of glass, then the inspector can give them their deed. As Pa becomes obsessed with the deed, he goes to extreme lengths to get the window- steal it from neighbors who have disappeared.
Listening to the music of this opera, it becomes clear that something is not right for the Zegner family. Teaming up with the start of the Halloween season, eeriness comes to life onstage. We start wit the hope of a new start in the Prologue, a hope for a piece of land, the hope of a fresh beginning, the hope that Uncle Sam will provide. Yet, just as quick as a storm pops up across the Midwest, we are thrown into the chaos of this families lives.
When we meet the family, it becomes clear that hardships have been felt over the last five years. The oldest son is not right mentally, two daughters have passed away. The hardships have forced the father to turn to alcohol to continue on. Yet, he is just days away from proving up and having his own land deed. The window becomes his obsession, as that is the piece of the puzzle he needs to get the land title. The window becomes the highlight for lighting, with light shining on it, allowing the obsession to be seen. This obsession builds a storm around them, one where they will either come out successful or fail. As the storm builds, we see one literally form onstage, as Miles gets caught in one trying to share the window with a neighbor so they can also prove up.
As the storm builds, we get a glimpse of a new character, one who has been following the family and mirrors the greed seen in the window. After Miles passes away in the storm, we are taken underground, to the Sodbuster's lair. To show a shift of location, low angled lighting became the main lighting source, creating harsh angles where the obsession is seen clear as day. Complimented with the sickly green storm colors seen in the Midwest, it becomes clear the family is failing at their goal. Obsession takes over, preventing the family from proving up and falling to their end.