‘One’ Episode 4: Student-alumni trio reveals social media’s hidden strengths as a stage for opera

Maurice L. Harris
A screen shot from the social media opera Salt

In episode #4 of the Schwarzman Center web series, One, Estefani Castro YSD ’21 interviews Frances Pollock YSM ’19MM ’23DM, Emily Roller YC ’07, and Danilo Gambini YSD ’20 about their novel approach to opera. The team discusses how they used social media as a performative and ideological stage for an original take on the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. A workshop of their production, Salt, premiered May 8 as part of the Yale Opera Studies Today (YOST 2020) program.

Roller said that she and her wife, Pollock, have long been interested in exploring themes of division—a result of their lived experiences in U.S. cities that contradicted their reputations as either conservative or liberal centers. Pollock commented, “And I think that Sodom and Gomorrah is the ultimate tale of what happens when there’s a major divide between people’s ideas of right and wrong.”

Pollock composed the music for Salt, while Roller provided the libretto. The two were seeking a director to help them develop the production when they received a call from Gambini.

“I used to direct opera back in Brazil and was feeling like I needed to direct again,” said Gambini, who was also drawn to the story of “polarization and extremes—and how this is used to manipulate people.”

The core of our story just intensified when you talk about social media as being a way of intensifying divides.
Emily Roller YC '07

As the Salt production team began to grapple with the realities of physical distancing and the cancellation of their planned live premiere, “The core of our story just intensified,” Roller said, “when you talk about social media as being a way of intensifying divides.”

Gambini commented that a significant advantage of social media as a stage for opera is its accessibility as well as its ability to connect with people who may be curious about opera but may perceive it as an esoteric artform.

“I think that every art should have layers,” Gambini said, “You have something for people who are deeply, intellectually interested in the setting of opera, and also something for people who just want to be fascinated, amused or entertained by this art itself.”

Gambini is now completing his M.F.A. at Yale School of Drama, Class of 2020. Pollock received her master’s degree in music from Yale School of Music in 2019 and is current working on her doctorate with an expected graduation date of 2023. Roller received her bachelor’s degree in English from Yale College in 2007 and has earned master’s degrees in writing and music theater writing from The John Hopkins University and New York University, respectively.

Salt workshop presenters at YOST also included Projection Designer Camilla Tassi, who is featured in One, Episode 2, and Music Director Jill Brunelle, a repertoire pianist at Yale University, working with Yale Opera, Yale School of Drama, the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, and Yale College. A YouTube video of the YOST workshop presentation of S​alt is available.

Castro, the host of episode #2, is an MFA student in the Yale School of Drama’s Theater Management program and works as the assistant director for stakeholder engagement at the Schwarzman Center.

One, a web series produced by the Schwarzman Center, highlights interdisciplinary approaches to the arts in relation to the Center’s values of collaboration, wellness and belonging. The inaugural season illuminates the creative and academic merits of student works impacted by social distance and explores perspectives on community-building among dispersed groups.  The series title, One, is a nod to the Schwarzman Center’s aspiration to advance a sense of “One Yale” and create an interconnected community that builds new traditions of student engagement around the campus and into the world.

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