Two-Headed Calf, the always innovative and exciting Obie Award winning performance group, co-founded by composer Brendan Connelly and director Brooke O'Harra, delivers a  two-part chamber opera this time out, You, My Mother, focused on the ever-shifting relationship between mothers and their adult children.  Fellow collaborators include two playwrights, Karinne Keithley Syers and Kristen Kosmas, composer Rick Burkhardt, and the music ensemble of Yarn/Wire + Strings.  I spoke with O'Harra.

Hi Brooke.  How did you come to do a chamber opera?
 
Originally, because we do so much live music in our shows, the idea behind this show was to make the music central.  And the way an opera functions, first and foremost is the music; so that's the reason we chose to do an opera.  So what we did was: we paired up two playwrights with two composers.  And what the playwrights wanted was a baseline, something to write about so that they were writing on the same theme or idea. So we asked the company members in the play to write their own narrative of the "ever-shifting relationship between mother and adult children." Also, Brendan and I wrote our own personal narratives on the same topic.  When you become an adult, there's a changing landscape; all of a sudden the relationship between you and your mother shifts.  And so the playwrights wrote librettos based on these narratives, and they also used their own personal narratives too.
 
What will we see on stage?
 
A six-piece chamber ensemble in the center of the set.  The actors perform inside and around the band. There is no set, with an orchestra to the side.  The orchestra is central.  The ensemble are also performers in the piece.  They are not just playing music.  They sing solos.  There's also a little bit of dancing.
 
The other main thing is: we use slides, which we are designing and printing.  It's not nostalgic.  The slides operate as super titles, but also as a visual language.  There are 3 slide projectors which the performers operate.  And there are moments where we acknowledge the slides.  Like characters saying, "Oh, I remember that" or "We didn't do that".  It shows the way memories conflict, between the parent and the child; how there's a difference between how we remember things, and how this alters the landscape too.
 
Tell me about the performers.
 
The performers sing.  We have two company members who are trained singers and dancers, but we also brought in two ringers, who are wonderful singers.  The mother, who (in real life) has children the same age as the two performers who play the adult children, a man and a woman.  There's also a third character, who shadows the mother, but is also the child.  She is more fluid because she functions as a double.  And of course, the band is Yarn/Wire + Strings, a new music ensemble, and we are collaborating with them on this show.
 
Anything else?
 
It's Two-Headed Calf's first commission.  We've always used text that exists, classics like George Bernard Shaw or Kabuki.  This one is an original commissioned piece.
 
It's not just singing, there's acting.  It's a performance.  It's an opera, so it's based on singing, but there's dialogue, and narrative and character.  It's an event. Even the band dances.
 
La Mama's Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 E. 4th St., (212) 475-7710. Feb. 9-20. Thurs.-Sun., 7:30 p.m.; Sat. matinees, 2:30 p.m.; additional performance, Feb. 20, 7:30 p.m., $25/$20 (students and seniors), 70-minute running time.