Review: An Opera Reaches the American Dream’s Brooding Heart

A tense and creepy journey into the heart of Manifest Destiny’s darkness, the opera “Proving Up” instructs us, teeth clenched, that the American dream eludes even — especially — those who give everything to gain it.

Composed by Missy Mazzoli, with a libretto by Royce Vavrek, the brooding work had its New York premiere on Wednesday at the Miller Theater at Columbia University. While it’s well worth hearing, there’s just one more performance, on Friday evening, and it’s nearly sold out.

But this is hardly the last we’ll be hearing from Ms. Mazzoli. Recently, the Metropolitan Opera announced that she and Jeanine Tesori would be the first female composers it would commission. (It’s about time.) For Ms. Mazzoli, that means two new operas: a mainstage spectacle, likely based on the George Saunders novel “Lincoln in the Bardo,” and a chamber piece to be performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

“Proving Up” is on a chamber scale: a running time of less than 90 minutes, an orchestra of about a dozen, seven people onstage, no chorus. It turns that intimacy into grim claustrophobia.