For opera singer and composer Lisa Neher, the battle between Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the Alien Queen in James Cameron's 1986 sci-fi blockbuster Aliens isn't just kickass. It's inspiring.
"I love the fierce mama power of Ripley and that motherly love that she acts on," says Neher. "I get so much comfort from watching Ripley take down this really horrible, horrible alien villain—who is the most iconic villain—and also the corporate villain. She just calls it."
Neher may not be a slayer of many-tentacled beasts, but she shares Ripley's tenacity. Defying the daunting obstacles presented by COVID-19 in order to perform opera, she composed the music for the One Voice Project Virtual Micro Opera Festival, a series of five-minute unaccompanied operas that emanate from three themes: the lives of musicians during the pandemic, women in sports, and resilience in the face of obstacles.
Before the debut of the festival, a collaboration between Neher and librettist Kendra Leonard, Neher spoke to WW about her offstage passions, which spring from places as different as the darkness of outer space to the depths of the ocean.
1. Family and friends
A lot of my friends and family members love board games, and so we've found Board Game Arena and some other virtual platforms that let us play, either in real time or a couple times a day spread out over a week. Which is a really nice way to have an activity, because a lot of times during the pandemic, it's mostly talking on the phone or video chatting, and sometimes there's nothing left to say or it's rehashing all of our anxieties.
It's just really inspiring and my go-to movie if I'm happy, if I'm sad, if I want to celebrate, if I'm heartbroken. I still am always looking and comparing it to today's films. "Is this as feminist as Aliens?" "Well, that was an OK film, but she wasn't Ripley."
I wrote an opera for myself to perform for the festival about Kathrine Switzer's running of the Boston Marathon in 1967 as the first registered woman competitor, and we decided the best thing for me to do was to actually go outside and run. I laid down the vocal track first, and so I'm lip-syncing in the film. My fiancé had a Bluetooth speaker as he was running beside me and filming. We were quite the pair on the streets of downtown Tigard filming a couple days ago.
4. The Cascade Mountains
Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens—these are the mountains that my parents took us to as kids. Life just kind of floats away and you feel the gravitational pull of geologic things living on a different time scale then you are. I find that kind of cosmically grounding.
5. Cephalopods—octopuses, squids, cuttlefish and nautiluses
I grew up south of Seattle. [My parents] loved to tell us and teach us about different creatures, and the giant Pacific octopus living in Puget Sound was a particular source of pride for them. I think what's really, really fascinating to me is that these are not vertebrates—these are really different animals than we are. I can't understand what life is like for them, but then you see an octopus learning how to open a jar and feel this weird kinship with it.
6. Cuddly stuffed animals
I never grew out of it, and I don't think adults should feel like they have to grow out of it. It connects with childhood, but also it connects with a tender part of, I think, all of us that yearn for something gentle and something that's present and tactile—especially now, when we can't hug our families.
7. Dark chocolate
My mom and I actually have a term for hot chocolate that doesn't taste very hot chocolaty because it's too light, and that is "brown-crayon hot chocolate," because it just looks sort of like you melted a brown crayon. If I'm ordering a hot chocolate, I better taste that dark chocolate.
SEE IT: Sign up to access the One Voice Project Virtual Micro Opera Festival at lisanehermusic.com/operafestival.html. A link to each day's programming will be emailed to you, and videos will stream after the scheduled showings. Through Friday, March 26. There will also be a Q&A at 5 pm Friday, March 26.