Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Reliving "Rabbit Tales"

I was commissioned in 2011 to compose a children's opera for the Atlanta Opera's first ever commission. I spent the summer of 2011 composing all day most every day and had the best time. It was one of those projects that I was glad I finished because that meant I was closer to hearing a performance, but I was sad that I would no longer work on the opera. It was just too much fun composing that hour long opera for children.

The past couple days I got to relive that feel by making clips from the DVD of the final dress rehearsal in October 2011. The opera was performed over 70 times, and hearing the dress rehearsal was a reminder of how a performance ensemble can evolve in that time. Don't get me wrong, I was more than happy with the dress rehearsal, but I caught some of the last performances in 2012 and it was amazing to see/hear how comfortable the singers got with the complicated text and 7/8 time signatures that some were skeptical the singers would ever get comfortable with. They just made it seem easy. I wish I had a video of the later performances to show how the opera evolved.

Madeleine St. Romain was the librettist who had the overwhelming task of finding a way to make a 45-50 minute story out of thousands of B'rer Rabbit stories. We had quite and enjoyable time working together, and I think we both agree that this section of the opera is our favorite text-wise and musically. We knew this song did not progress the story, but it was a part we fell in love with. We even made a pact that we would make compromises on any other section, but we would fight to the death for this song to stay in. Luckily, it never was an issue:

I love the next section mainly because of what the stage director Park Cofield and music director Michael Spassov did to make this section hang together. This song could have easily gotten tedious because of the repetition, but the added "camp choreography" and the added accelerando really made me happy. This collaboration was much appreciated!

What can I say about the cast? They were fabulous and an incredible fit for each role. I didn't necessarily know who was going to be performing these parts when I was composing, but I had seen Baritone Wade Thomas performing in Atlanta Opera's production of "The Ugly Duckling" as the Big Bad Wolf, and that always stuck with me when I was composing "Rabbit Tales" and I hoped that the Atlanta Opera would be able to cast Wade as King Lion. You can see why below:

I think the cast did really well with the ensemble singing, and I especially love the last segment because of their interaction, the stage props, and that I could legitimize eating pie while I was composing the "Pie" song.

I have some serious admiration for the singers and pianist for this production. This was a high energy opera with lost of text, music, and stage direction to remember. Sometimes they performed the opera 3 times or more in one day after traveling a couple hours all before noon wearing crazy costumes. This was an amazing collaboration. I don't really collaborate because the opportunity like this rarely comes along for me, but if all collaborations went like this I would do it everyday. And of course none of this wouldn't have happened if the Atlanta Opera's Education Director Emmalee Iden hadn't had the story idea and been an advocate for me to be the composer. It's really an experience that I will look back on as a pivotal moment in my career and life.

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