Bolinas woman debuts transformational opera
by Sam Mondros
September 21, 2022
Bolinas composer Andrea Densmore’s magnum opus, “Eve, An Opera,” was co-created with her two sons, Antonio and Hobart Owen. The genre-bending work is a story about women’s exploitation and liberation, and it highlights her and her family’s battles with abuse while telling an archetypal story of trauma and healing. The opera, which features 15 West Marin residents, will show on Oct. 28 at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts, a far cry from the backyards and community centers where Ms. Densmore has performed earlier iterations of the work.
Ms. Densmore said improvisational music and her longtime community in the San Geronimo Valley were driving forces behind her healing process, and both are central to the opera’s theme and subtext.
“I have spent the last many years transforming my horrific story and triumphant healing into a work of art to share with the world,” Ms. Densmore said. “The San Geronimo Valley is the village that it took to begin my healing.”
In 1997, Ms. Densmore left an abusive relationship and moved her family into a new home in the valley. She began teaching music and physical education in the Lagunitas School’s Open Classroom program, using a method developed by German composer Carl Orff that encourages improvisation and play through music, movement and drama. Spending time with her community and children, and playing piano and singing at open mics, allowed her to explore different modes of healing.
After moving in 2005 to Bolinas, where she simultaneously taught at the school and earned her teaching certificate at Dominican University, Ms. Densmore decided to pursue an M.F.A. at the California Institute of Integral Studies. It was there she learned to apply meaning to the art she was creating, coming to terms with her trauma as a catalyst for creativity. In 2018, as a final project for her degree, she began composing the beginnings of what would become “Eve,” initially called “Bach’s Daughter.” Her professors and colleagues saw its potential and encouraged her to develop it as an opera.
That year, Ms. Densmore held a small house concert in Bolinas in which chamber musicians debuted the four compositions of “Bach’s Daughter,” including the work’s titular, multi-movement piece that ran almost 30 minutes in length. The music laid the groundwork for the lyrical themes of abuse and rebirth that she later developed in the opera. The show ended with testimony extemporaneously delivered by her son Antonio, who called the audience’s attention to the domestic abuse perpetrated by his father that formed the background for the music.
The moment marked a new beginning, said Antonio, a musician and composer. He said his feelings of anger and contempt turned to sorrow and empathy for a man who was himself a victim of generational trauma and toxic masculinity.
In 2020, “Bach’s Daughter” was performed for the first time as an opera at the Dance Palace Community Center in partnership with the Center for Domestic Peace. The plot explored age-old issues of power, control, subjugation and violation. Eve is an archetypal protagonist representing innocence and purity who falls prey to villainous intent and capture. She becomes stuck in the underbelly of society with no visible way out, but she survives and ultimately finds liberation.
The score’s 13 compositions explore the opera’s themes of innocence, corruption, darkness and rebirth in community, starting with chamber music and moving on to baroque, R&B, jazz, rock and roll and show tunes. “Eve” features six chamber instruments, a four-piece R&B band, and 19 Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir singers. Bolinas resident Amber Hines plays the opera’s lead, Woodacre resident Jasper Thelin plays the villain, and Inverness resident Maica Folch helped with the choreography.
October’s performance will be co-presented with the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.