Fresh from a run in Europe, diva Raehann Bryce-Davis has joined the cast of 10 Days in a Madhouse in Opera Philadelphia.
The mezzo-soprano sings the role of the inmate Lizzie a run of five performances through September 30 at Opera Philadelphia's Festival O23
Bryce-Davis, in 2022, made house and role débuts at the Metropolitan Opera as Baba the Turk in The Rake's Progress, at La Monnaie, Brussels; as La Zia Principessa in Suor Angelica, and at Washington National Opera as Azucena in Il trovatore.
In 2021, she returned to both Los Angeles Opera and the Staatstheater Nürnberg as Azucena, and gave solo recitals at both the Tuesday Musical Club in San Antonio, Texas, with pianist Heeyoung Choi, and for the Merola Opera Program with pianist Jeanne-Minette Cilliers.
She last performed in Jamaica with the Kingston College Chapel Choir at the University Chapel and St Paul's Anglican Church in Portmore, St Catherine. She also performed a fund-raising programme with Meadowbrook United Church.
Daughter of Jamaican parents, and co-founder of the Black Opera Alliance, Bryce-Davis maintains her Rock roots and is on the island as often as breaks permit.
In 2020, during the novel coronavirus pandemic, she produced the music video, To the Afflicted which became an official video for World Opera Day, and in 2021 she served as executive producer, concept creator, and performer in the award-winning digital short Brown Sounds with the LA Opera and Aural Compass Projects.
Kiera Duffy is disturbed by 10 Days in a Madhouse as much as an 1887 public was outraged by the squalid surroundings exposed by trailblazing reporter Nellie Bly.
"The idea of the hysterical woman trope really does persist today," the soprano said ahead of Thursday night's première of Rene Orth's musical adaptation at Opera Philadelphia.
"My sister at the age of 34 had a heart attack at a gym and was conscious and telling the emergency personnel, `I think I'm having a heart attack.′ She was having all of the classic signs and they dismissed it and told her you're probably having a panic attack and gave her the wrong medication and she died."
Siobhan Duffy Gaffney's death in December 2018 was on Duffy's mind as she rehearsed the lead role of Bly. The complex work is based on the reporting of the New York World reporter, who feigned derangement and fooled doctors to gain admittance to the Blackwell's Island insane asylum for women on what is now New York City's Roosevelt Island. Bly uncovered abusive overcrowding, lack of heat, shared bath water, and discrimination, leading to a grand jury investigation and reforms.
An all-woman creative team was commissioned to develop the work by Opera Philadelphia and Toronto's Tapestry Opera. Bly disclosed that many detainees were sane and held only because they were poor, spoke little English or had run afoul of a man.
"I have a lot to say about women's rights being taken away and how women are treated," Director Joanna Settle explained. "If Britney Spears can be put in a conservatorship performing nine shows a week in Vegas at the highest level, it's unbelievable that someone that legibly competent can lose her freedom. So, it's not such an old issue, which is why we all respond to the story."
Orth composed the 80-minute work for 12 musicians plus electronics. Acoustic generally accompanies reality and harsher electronics and drums for delusion. With a compelling and unique style, the 38-year-old composer mixes in a waltz and hymn for a chorus of inmates.
"I would love it if somebody walked out of the theatre and said: `I want to see that again,' " Orth said, "or if they also feel there's a social justice message to society: We need to do better for women."
Bryce-Davis has the most compelling aria in 10 Days in a Madhouse, My daughter, an ode to a dead child which promises to transfix audiences.
Following the run in 10 Days in a Madhouse she heads to New York for the Metropolitan Opera première of Anthony Davis's (no relation) X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X."
Bryce-Davis shared that she views Roosevelt Island quite differently following her immersion in the traumatic story of 10 Days in a Madhouse.
"My sister lives on Roosevelt Island, and so whenever I'm in New York, that's where I am," she said. "When I first realised the connection, I was like, "Wait! What?!"