Drag queen Sasha Velour stars in The Island We Made, a filmed 10-minute opera by composer Angélica Negrón, directed by Matthew Placek. It is part of a series of commissions by Opera Philadelphia. A seven-day pass is $10 at operaphila.org — pricey, perhaps, but you’ll likely watch it several times.
The setting is a 1970s house, complete with pink shag carpeting and turquoise bathroom tiles. Velour looks beautiful and otherworldly in a yellow dress and sequined accessories. She moves slowly and elegantly around the house; she even manages to spread peanut butter gracefully. The soundtrack heavily features harp and glitchy electronics, which add to the retro space-age feel.
The film plays on the idea of lip-synching. For most of it, Velour mouths the words sung by soprano Eliza Bagg. But there’s also a grandmother, then a mother, then a daughter, sitting at a table sculpting a figurine out of clay. The libretto is about mothers: “My ears, your chest, my lungs, your voice. You made me.” The inspiration comes from Negrón’s own mother, a friend of drag queens in Puerto Rico. But it’s also about femininity, in all its forms, and growing up.
Over the past couple of years, Negrón has been working on Chimera, a drag opera, so expect more where this came from soon. —Saskia Maxwell Keller