Sunday, May 6, 2012

MN Opera Adapts The Giver for Young Singers

The MN Opera has a habit of inviting The Black Hat Collective to dress rehearsals for new performances of classic operas, but this April we were blessed with a very special opportunity to see an brand-new opera, written specifically for young voice students (between the ages of 8 and 18) based on the enormously popular children's novel The Giver by Lois Lowry.

The plot of The Giver revolves around Jonas, a 12-year-old boy living in a society that is carefully designed to be free of pain, fear, and difference, but which is also devoid of color, history and heights of emotion.  Jonas has a gift —he has begun to see colors!  On the day when all twelve-year-olds are assigned their duties in society, Jonas is sent to apprentice as a "receiver of memory."  He shall become the one vessel for all of humanity's collective memories, good and bad, so that the members of his community may live in blissful, destructive ignorance.  And the person who imparts this knowledge to him is known as "The Giver."

In the end, Jonas and the Giver decide that what the community has done to itself is wrong, and they concoct a plan so that Jonas can escape, the act of which causes all the memories to return to the people.

The opera is staged on a small thrust stage with a large scaffold above.  It features a Greek Chorus of sorts to narrate the action as the main characters go through their motions and sing their lines.  When the Giver transmits memories to Jonas, actors from the chorus come out from the sidelines holding canvas screens, onto which film footage is projected.  These memories cover the lovely things like snow, color, animals and love, and the terrifying things like pain and war.

The opera was composed by Susan Kander, who loves to write music for young audiences and performers.  She has composed several successful youth operas in the past.

The music is very good.  It's melodic and makes good use of chorus.  While it doesn't use rhyming, it does have a poetic repetition scheme and has places for the young talents to really shine and show that opera is more than just talking up and down a scale.

Lois Lowry herself was present at this showing, and she stayed afterwards to talk to the kids who performed in the show.

The Giver was already completely sold out by the time we saw the dress rehearsal.  If that weren't the case, I'd be urging everyone to go see it —not only for your own enjoyment, but to support the creative dreams of these very talented children.

I'm confident that this opera will keep playing.  The current cast is graduating out of the educational program that it was created for, but other groups will perform it because it's good enough to last.  Keep your eyes peeled for it in the future.

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