Nkeiru Okoye was watching “Clash of the Titans” when she stumbled upon the idea for her second opera. The comedic opera, titled “We’ve Got Our Eye On You,” had its premiere workshop performance at SUNY New Paltz’s Julien J. Studley Theater on Tuesday, March 1.
Dr. Okoye, music professor and composer, had been searching for her next story when she saw the 1981 film’s “Stygian Witches” scene. It was perfect, she said. Professor Kent Smith had suggested she write a single-act opera about sisterhood. So when Dr. Okoye found herself laughing hysterically over three man-hungry sisters, living in a cave, sharing an eyeball, well, she ran with it.
Okoye’s first opera, “Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom,” was a drama. This time around, she just wanted to pen something funny.
“I didn’t want to write another sad opera,” Okoye said. “And this was hilarious! So I asked myself, ‘What can I do with that?’”
This is what she did. She wrote the single-act opera — with a comedic twist. Nowadays, Dr. Okoye noticed, so much opera is dry and unrelatable. Many opera companies have now introduced operatic comedies to change the way viewers respond to opera. “We’ve Got Our Eye on You” is just that.
“It’s silly and funny, and why shouldn’t it be?” Dr. Okoye said.
She channeled this light-hearted vision into a more serious message that spoke to her: modern hook up culture.
“It’s all about taking a closer look at what really happens when we hook up with someone,” she added. “How do we feel afterwards? Is it really that fun?”
Hooking up is a celebrated norm across most college campuses in America. According to Okoye, it places pressure on students to hook up, when it may not be what they truly want.
“It’s not what they want to hear, but when it’s wrapped up in an operatic comedy, it’s hilarious,” Okoye said.
Okoye took themes in Greek myths and applied them to modern times. In most Greek myths (and operas, too, she pointed out), the Greek god, or the man, swoops in and “deflowers the virgin.” Here, we get a different perspective.
“If I’m writing this story, I’m writing it about the women,” Okoye said. “What if they decide they want something from him? It’s a totally different spin. It’s telling their story.”
In “We’ve Got Our Eye On You,” the three sisters are visited by Pythia, who warns them that Perseus will be visiting. In a comedic number, we find out Perseus will “flirt, flirt, flirt” to get his way with them. He encounters the sisters one by one, each sister fooling him more than the last.
Okoye worked closely with Professor Smith to cast students from the music department as actors. According to Okoye, they ended up learning more about dance, movement and comedy.
“I’m impressed by their effort. They signed up to sing, and suddenly they’re doing all these other things,” she said.
Kevin Little, a first-year classical voice major at SUNY New Paltz, attended the performance to support his peers on stage. He found the show entertaining and the music well-composed. As for the show’s message?
“It’s about staying safe and making good choices for yourself,” he said.
The workshop performance will run again on Saturday, March 5 at 8 p.m. in the Julien J. Studley Theatre.