The Copper Queen is an opera-film in the style of Tebaldi / Loren Aida and the Pavarotti / Freni Bohemia of times gone by. The difference is that The queen of copper is a modern opera for our own century by composer Clint Borzoni and librettist John de los Santos that chronicles times in Bisbee, Arizona. Just under five years ago, he won an Arizona opera competition that secured him his place on stage. He has had several successful workshops, but due to the pandemic and the fact that audience size is currently quite limited, The queen of copper has become a movie that can be experienced online.
Director Crystal Manich is a versatile Latinx artist whose work for stage and screen has been seen in the United States, Argentina and Australia. Manley Films is the official film production sponsor of Arizona Opera. The opera chronicles the difficult life a woman might be forced to live in Bisbee, a mining town in 19th-century Arizona. Addison, a 21st century writer visits the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee and spends a night in Room 315 to investigate reports of ghostly apparitions. Opera scenes move from the 19th century to the 21st century as the story unfolds.
Director Manich brings us the unvarnished truth about the life of a worker in a mining town doing the only job a woman can do. Julia Lowell, daughter of the hotel owner, has male “visitors” in her room on the third floor. She has so many that her father built a railing directly to her window from the street. She falls in love with a man named Theodore and expects him to leave his wife for her. When he doesn’t, she tries to escape on her own but her father catches up with her and kills her in rage. At the end of the opera we realize that Addison probably dreamed the story.
Borzoni’s opera begins as a recitative between Addison and the hotel clerk, then another with Julia and a guest. Like some of Verdi’s operas, The queen of copper has a plethora of duets, but it’s in the airs where the characters express their opinions that Borzoni really makes sense musically. As the character sings a single line above, the orchestra plays wonderful symphonic music to accompany it.
Vanessa Becerra was an attractive Julia who sings in lyrical tones while making people of this century aware of what life was like to her. Addison, played by Sarah Coit, had a more dramatic tone as she commented on the current technology not working in her bedroom. Joshua Dennis played Theodore Billings as a genuinely unhappy husband who feared the public scrutiny that a change in his marital status would bring. He’s a villain whose self-interest is understandable.
Keith Lighthouses character Daddy Lowell is simply interested in the money his daughter brings him. She has already tried unsuccessfully to run away and he knows that if she is left alive, she will eventually succeed. It’s his dark hued baritone voice, he showed us the real nastiness of his character. Conductor Daniela Candillari led the performance with moderately propulsive tempos that kept the drama moving forward.
The queen of copper is an interesting and musically satisfying work that deserves its place in the lyrical repertoire, especially for the towns of the South West. The film Copper Queen will be available for pre-sale on Arizona Opera OnDemand for $ 30 starting October 1, 2021, and will air on November 5, 2021 until it is withdrawn from Arizona Opera OnDemand on January 4, 2022.