Experiments in Opera to Release Five-Episode Opera Podcast: ‘Aqua Net & Funyuns’

By Chris Ruel

What happens when you take four librettists under quarantine and have them write in a virtual, TV-inspired writers’ room?

Answer: Brooklyn, New York-based Experiments in Opera’s five-part podcast opera, “Aqua Net & Funyuns.” All episodes will be available for streaming or downloading on December 7, with each running about 25 minutes.

The four librettists, Jason Cady; Cara Ehlenfeldt, Daniel Shepard, and Annie-Sage Whitehurst were paired with one composer: Kamala Sankaram, Jason Cady, Aaron Siegel, Tariq Al-Sabir, or Michi Wiancko, to create each installment.

The episodes are cliffhangers with each telling one-third of the overarching story, leaving it to the audience to piece together the narrative as they listen. The listening experience has been specifically designed to translate music into story.

Sound design, through-singing vocals, and instruments reveal the clues that connect the stories to form the whole. The librettos share commonalities such as an embrace of genre fiction, non-normative relationships, otherworldly phenomena, emotional hi-jinks, and compelling characters, the groups’ press release stated.

Using techniques found in television writers’ rooms, EiO pushed the librettists to write on a condensed timeline. EiO Composer-Leaders, Aaron Siegel, Jason Cady, Kamala Sankaram, issued a joint statement.

“Our first podcast opera, Buick City, 1:00 AM (released in the fall of 2018) garnered universal praise for its 4-part serialized story and reached over 10,000 listeners across the world. We also have been pioneering a model for libretto writing in a TV-inspired Writers’ Room, that allows us to create an inclusive space for artists new to opera and to generate much more material on a faster timeline. Creating five new 25-minute audio operas over the course of summer/fall 2020 has been a tremendous challenge. It has also been a huge opportunity for us to demonstrate a new model for creating digitally-native operas that stretch the art form and our collective imaginations.”

The “Aqua Net & Funyuns” podcast opera lineup follows.

“Beauty Shot”
Libretto by Daniel Shepard
Music by Tariq Al-Sabir
What starts out as a simple trim turns into a murderous trial of infidelity at a quiet hair salon in Kansas.

“Another One Bites”
Libretto and Music by Jason Cady
A high school student in the 1980’s ditches an anti-drug assembly to smoke pot and hides from a cop in a porta-potty—which becomes a portal to a parallel universe.

“Ships That Pass”
Libretto by Cara Ehlenfeldt
Music by Aaron Siegel
When Alden discovers that his deceased mother authored queer fanfiction, he reexamines his high school memories and his reluctance to tell her about his own queer identity.

“The Understudy”
Libretto by Jason Cady and Cara Ehlenfeldt
Music by Kamala Sankaram
An opera company hires a private eye to go undercover as an understudy to a soprano.

“Arkana Aquarium”
Libretto by Annie-Sage Whitehurst
Music by Michi Wiancko
A widowed janitor at an aquarium becomes convinced his wife has been reincarnated.
As the newly acquired fish.