After three years in the making, David T. Little's "Dog Days" will receive its world premiere at Peak Performances' Alexander Kasser Theater, September 29-October 7.
However, "Dog Days," which mixes elements of opera, musical theater, and rock-infused concert music to make its horrifying prediction of the future, has had a circuitous three-year path from page (the Judy Budnitz short story of the same name) to the Kasser stage in Montclair, NJ.
"Dog Days'" vision is apocalyptic. A man dressed in a dog suit suddenly appears outside the house of a family who, like its neighbors, faces nothing but famine and destruction. The situation poses a series of dangerous questions: Is it madness, delusion, or sheer animal instinct that guides us through perilous times? If necessary, when should man yield to his animal instincts to survive? "Dog Days" is tough, funny, and ultimately, deeply humane.
Peak Performances' Artistic Director Jedediah Wheeler was first introduced to the work through a CD that "Dog Days" conductor Alan Pierson gave Wheeler in 2009. Although only a preliminary sketch recorded at Carnegie Hall through the Weil Institute that year, Wheeler was so taken by what he heard: "It was clear that Little's vision needed to be fully realized and developed into a full scale opera." The opera would be Little's first.
To ensure it happening in the best possible way, Wheeler enlisted the award-winning theater/opera director RoBert Woodruff to work with Little and librettist Royce Vavrek to shape the nascent work; he then hired Beth Morrison, well-known for her passion for and experience in new opera, as its associate producer. Morrison's job was to locate and assemble the designers for the set and video (Jim Findlay), costumes (Vita Tzykun), lighting (Matt Frey), as well as the seven-member cast, which now includes soprano Marnie Breckenridge, baritone James Bobick, tenor Peter Tantsits, tenor Michael Marcotte, soprano Lauren Worsham, mezzo-soprano Cherry Duke, and performance artist John Kelly. Newspeak, Little's 8-piece amplified ensemble, are the instrumentalists. Wheeler also committed the Kasser Theater stage crew to construct the set, and reserved the Kasser stage for rehearsals throughout the month of September.
So "Dog Days," with its cast of seven, its stunning score, and its terrible tale to tell about human nature, has had a very loving and supportive history to bring it from page to stage. "Dog Days" is the first of two new operas that Peak is producing this year.
The second is "Zinnias: The Life of Clementine Hunter," which premieres at the Kasser, January 26-February 3, 2012. The opera is a collaborative work by a multi-award-winning team of artists: Robert Wilson (director), Bernice Johnson Reagon (composer), Toshi Reagon (composer), and Jacqueline Woodson (book). Stay tuned.
The Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University is located at 1 Normal Avenue, Montclair, New Jersey 07043. Tickets are $15, and are available at the box office, www.peakperfs.org, or by calling 973-655-5112.