From January 9 – 14, the Prototype Festival presents a new, commissioned, chamber version of Michael Gordon’s opera Acquanetta at the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center in DUMBO, Brooklyn. Based on a 1940’s B-movie horror flick called Captive Wild Woman, starring an enigmatic actress and former cheesecake model named Acquanetta, the opera’s libretto is written by Deborah Artman.
Stunning and exotic, Acquanetta played the untameable and gorgeous creation resulting from a mad scientist’s experiments on an ape, a role the young actress sizzled in and played so well a sequel was soon in the can. So began a brief career in bread-and-butter films that ended only a few years later when Acquanetta inexplicably walked away from the Hollywood studio system and swanned off to Mexico.
Her past is a mystery. Because of her come-hither stare and sensuous pout, Walter Winchell nicknamed her “The Venezuelan Volcano.” In interviews, she claimed Native American roots, and her obituary in 2004 stated that she was born on an Indian reservation near Cheyenne, Wyoming. Who was Acquanetta, and why did she walk out on her contract with Universal Pictures at the height of her career?
In Acquanetta, the mock serious, campy spirit of horror movies is turned inside out in a bravura, one-act deconstruction of the five minutes that changed Acquanetta’s life forever. The mad scientist Doctor, the insistent Ape, the reluctant Brainy Woman, the visionary Director and the beautiful monster herself, Acquanetta, gather in this re-imagining of that fateful experiment. In soaring, sometimes comic and always indelible songs that perfectly capture the heightened drama of horror films, these vivid characters reveal their inner longings and emotional shadows in what is ultimately a haunting meditation on the meaning of identity, transformation, stereotypes and typecasting, set in the heyday of Hollywood gloss.