Samford Opera has commissioned a second opera from the creative team of composer Evan Mack and librettist Joshua McGuire. In 2016, Kristin Kenning, director of the Samford Opera program worked with Mack and McGuire to produce The Ghosts of Gatsby and the new project will result in a children’s opera entitled Dragon’s Breath scheduled to premiere at Samford in the fall of 2023.
Mack and McGuire were on campus in early November to workshop the opera with Samford students and Kenning. Over the course of the week, the opera was changed to better serve the story and the voices of the students. The week culminated with a reading of the updated version for a small audience on Brock Recital Hall stage.
“Having worked with Kristin, Samford and its students before, it allows us to be freer to take more risks and dig in with the students,” said McGuire. “We are excited about creating the experience and setting the stage for a personal connection with the audience.”
Written for parents and children, the opera tells the story of Alan, an eleven-year-old boy who is struggling with his feelings. During an argument with his parents, Alan slips into an internal realm where he confronts a dragon (his own anger) and learns how to manage his emotions. It is written for four singers and chamber orchestra.
Eight students shared the roles of the characters and worked with the creative team. “Having the opportunity to work with living artists gave me a new perspective on what music and storytelling can be,” said Lauren Tinsley, a master of music vocal performance student.
“We are cherishing this opportunity right now,” said Kenning. “Our students are performing new music in front of the creators – to sing new music is everything. It allows me and my students to be the first to interpret the characters and be part of the creative process.”
“It was such a unique experience getting to work with Mack and McGuire. One of the most prominent themes throughout the rehearsals was that the music and story are malleable — nothing was set in stone. It was really interesting to see the work develop in real time,” said Tinsley.
According to Mack and McGuire, they started work on the opera about a year ago and then shared it with Kenning who worked on it with her students throughout the fall.
“Samford students are engaging and prepared,” said Mack. “Even though we wrote the opera, the Samford students have lived with it longer and gotten to know the characters better than we have. They also are closer in age to the characters and that has really influenced the direction of the music and libretto.”
“For me, the best part was definitely the private showcase,” said Tinsley. “Being able to perform this new and still changing work of art for an audience was so meaningful. People laughed, people cried, but most importantly, I think people learned something. It was a priceless experience.”
Now the team will finalize the music and libretto and start to envision the staging and design for the opera to be presented next year.
Samford Opera will be presenting Amahl and the Night Visitors this season. The performance will run Dec. 1-4 in Harrison Theatre and is part of the Dr. Chandler and Jane Paris Smith Opera Series and sponsored by Elouise Williams. Tickets are available for this family-friendly opera at tickets.samford.edu.