The Two Gay Geeks were very fortunate to attend the World Premiere of the “The Copper Queen” film produced by Arizona Opera. Yes, I said film, this was originally commissioned to be produced onstage two years ago but we had this little thing called a pandemic (or as we refer to it, the damndemic). So, while the rest of the world literally shut down, the creatives at Arizona Opera pivoted to get this piece heard.
A little history; the idea for a new piece commissioned by Arizona Opera was birthed in an associate group referred to as Spark. There was a competition nearly five years ago for an Arizona themed opera that would then be produced by the company. Clint Borzoni and John De los Santos (who I will refer to as Clint and John from here forward) found out about this competition and put something together, presented it, and won. We became a part of the Spark Initiative and saw several presentations and workshops and were very excited about seeing the final product onstage when everything stopped. Clint and John had spent hours reworking the story and music and had it ready to perform.
Arizona Opera has introduced some inventive ways for patrons to see and enjoy opera over the course of the pandemic and turning this opera into film is just one of them. The music and story were complete, the sets were mostly completed, the singers were chosen, the costumes were designed and ready to be fitted, and dates set for performance. Rather than let all of this go to waste, what better idea than to pivot and shoot a film of the opera. The cast is relatively small, the orchestra is chamber sized, and the sets were done. All they needed now was a director and a company familiar with producing a film. It had already been decided that this would be an all female production crew as they were in place, headed by Crystal Manich. So, they enlisted a local company, Manley Films, to do the filming.
With the vaccine something new and precautions required by the musicians union, the cast, film crew, and associated others gathered in Phoenix in May of 2020 to begin production of the “The Copper Queen” film. Over the course of five days (an extraordinary feat), they recorded, shot scene after scene, and completed the film. All of this was accomplished due to the expertise of Crystal Manich who directed (guided) this wonderful film experience, as they say in the movie business, into the can. On to editing and editing, and editing (that’s how it is in film).
The day arrived, October 22, 2021 at 7:00 PM at the Harkins 101 Theater, Show Time.
We (the Two Gay Geeks, remember us) sat up front and Clint Borzoni and his Mother joined us, socially distanced, of course for the world premiere of “The Copper Queen”.
The film, a Southwestern Gothic (in our view), starts with actual footage of the Bisbee area and The Copper Queen Hotel, we are led inside up to the third floor where Julia Lowell, a how shall we say it was a cowtown courtesan, a prostitute, or as they refer to her in the film, a soiled dove lived.
The short Log Line for the film:
Still healing from her grandmother’s death, Addison Moore finds herself checking into The Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee, Arizona. Aware of the ghost stories and hauntings, Addison fearlessly elects to stay in Room 315, the location of the heartbroken Julia Lowell’s death a century ago.
But what draws Addison to Room 315? And why does she want to face Julia’s ghost?
The film shifts time back and forth between 1910 and 2010 where Clint has developed a unique style and tone to the music in each of the time periods. The music is very 20th Century with an emphasis on expressive melody and easy on the ears with hints of discord setting the stage for the action of John’s lyrics. John not only wrote the lyrics but also set certain guidelines for stage direction. Almost as if the words, music, and movement of the characters were choreographed. It was a sight to see, the artistic approach to shooting the various scenes by director, Crystal Manich and how well they fit together and enhanced by the film editor.
During one particularly poignant scene and aria, Still Pretty, there were tears, and even now writing this I am a little verklempt. The power of the music and lyrics AND the performance of Vanessa Becerra (Julia Lowell) was heart breaking. This area moves into a duet with Joshua Dennis (Theodore Billings) that brings on more water works. This was the highlight for me even though this is somewhere at the midpoint. It is like the two arias and duet at the beginning of Puccini’s La Boheme.
As we go back and forth between time periods we begin to discover more of Julia’s past and her father Daddy Lowell (Keith Phares) and the connection with Addison (Sarah Coit). I won’t spoil it but the ending is very satisfying. This story and music is in our opinion the future of opera today. Making this once stodgy world accessible to the listening audiences of today.
The Copper Queen will be playing in theaters through October and available on demand at AZOpera.org
We must give credit to those that made this work possible:
The Copper Queen, part of the McDougall Arizona Opera RED Series. Developed in part through Arizona Spark. Lead underwriting provided by Matt and Ann Melsheimer. Production made possible, in part, through additional generous support from Marlu Allan and Scott Stallard, Roma Wittcoff, the Carol Franc Buck Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Michael and Beth Kasser, Margaret T. Morris Foundation, Drs. Stephen and Barbara Munk, Charles and Jennifer Sands, Ron and Kay McDougall, Colonel (Ret.) Kimberley Smith, Dr. Judith G. Wolf, and members of the Arizona Spark.
The all-female conductor-director-designer team of The Copper Queen Film is generously supported by a consortium of donors, led by Susan Esco Chandler, Milo and Kim Kauffman, and Linda Hirshman.
Manley Films is the Official Film Production Sponsor of Arizona Opera.
And the legal disclaimer:
PLEASE NOTE: This film contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing including scenes of a sexual nature, domestic violence, and prostitution. This film is only intended for mature audiences. Viewer discretion is advised. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.