Nashville Opera's 'Three Way' Might Stir Controversy — Or Bring In Curious Viewers

Jan 25, 2017

People who go to the opera, and many who don't, are probably familiar with the classics of the art form. Carmen. La Traviata. The Magic Flute.

But the Nashville Opera tries to get outside the mainstream at least once a year, and its latest foray is decidedly modern: a show that deals with unusual relationships in the 21st century. 

The opera is called Three Way — and yes, that kind of three-way.

The show opens this weekend, in three independent acts: the first, about a robot programmed to be a domestic companion for lonely women like the main character Maya.

"You may find it alarming," she sings, "but Prince Charming is just an upgrade away."

Another act follows an evening with a group of swingers, and one is about an increasingly violent session with a professional dominatrix.

John Hoomes, the CEO and artistic director of the Nashville Opera, says he knows the subject matter is edgy. But then again, it's not like opera has ever shied away from occasional deviance. 

The Nashville Opera puts on a number of mainstream productions each season, but its lineup usually includes an experimental show as well.
Credit Emily Siner / WPLN

Take Faust, Hoomes says. It's a classic French opera about a guy who sells his soul to the devil, "and he meets a young innocent girl; he gets her pregnant; and by the end, she gives birth and then strangles her own baby.

"So compared to that, Three Way's nothing. Seriously."

Still, Three Way, with music by Robert Paterson and libretto by David Cote, is a little more brazen in its approach. There aren't many operas where two characters have a fight over safe words or where the term "cis-male" is defined in song.

"It means you embrace your socially designated gender," explains one character who identifies as pansexual and is sung by a countertenor.

The Nashville Opera wants to bring in shows that test the limits — they're exciting to produce, and they boost the company's reputation nationwide. This particular piece is a world premiere that's heading next to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

But the company also has to weigh financial implications. Regardless of how novel a show is, it still needs to make money. So does the Nashville Opera risk not being able to fill seats when the content is so experimental?

"I hope not," Hoomes says. "I think the merits of the piece outweigh the fear of the subject matter."

Yes, some people might find it controversial, he says, but he sees it as appealing to a millennial audience — which could get them interested in the company's work overall.

"I think it would be great if locally we would be seen as not just a museum," Hoomes says. "I feel opera is a living and breathing art form and a very exciting art form."

He thinks people who see Three Way will agree — as long as they aren't scared off by the name.

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