A bark­ing mad opera

‘Dog Days’ at REDCAT is far from con­ven­tional

Los Angeles Times - - CULTURE MONSTER - By David Ng david.ng@la­times.com

There aren’t that many op­eras that can count clas­si­cal mu­sic and heavy-metal rock among the sources of in­spi­ra­tion. But then “Dog Days” is about as far from con­ven­tional as con­tem­po­rary opera gets — a postapoc­a­lyp­tic sce­nario melded into the form of mu­si­cal theater, with a good dose of re­verse ca­nine an­thro­po­mor­phism.

In the near fu­ture, an un­spec­i­fied catas­tro­phe has brought wide­spread star­va­tion and so­cial col­lapse. A teenage girl sur­vives with her im­me­di­ate fam­ily by scroung­ing for food un­til one day a dog ar­rives on the premises — or is it a man dressed up as a dog? Does it mat­ter given the piece’s loose con­nec­tion with lit­eral re­al­ity?

The avant-garde uni­verse of “Dog Days,” adapted from a short story by Judy Bud­nitz, is provoca­tive and some­times dis­turb­ing. The piece was first per­formed in 2012 and is mak­ing its lo­cal pre­miere this week in a pro­duc­tion from Los An­ge­les Opera at REDCAT.

Com­poser David T. Lit­tle said that he drew ex­ten­sively on his eclec­tic artis­tic back­ground when writ­ing the piece.

“I grew up per­form­ing mu­si­cal theater, but I was also into metal bands like Me­gadeth,” he said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “I’m pretty much into ev­ery­thing from Public En­emy to Hank Wil­liams. It’s all kind of mixed up in my mu­si­cal DNA.”

The idea for “Dog Days,” which fea­tures a li­bretto by Royce Vavrek, orig­i­nated with a com­mis­sion from Carnegie Hall and was later fleshed out into its cur­rent form with Beth Mor­ri­son Projects, the Brook­lyn­based new-mu­sic ini­tia­tive. The world pre­miere took place at Mont- clair Peak Per­for­mances in New Jer­sey.

The cast in­cludes Lau­ren Wor­sham, who was nom­i­nated last year for a Tony Award for “A Gen­tle­man’s Guide to Love and Mur­der,” and per­for­mance artist John Kelly as the crea­ture.

“Dog Days” is the lat­est ef­fort from L.A. Opera to broaden its au­di­ences be­yond the tra­di­tional grand opera crowd and to at­tract younger view­ers.

Christo­pher Koelsch, the com­pany’s pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive, said he cold-called Beth Mor­ri­son two years ago about the pos­si­bil­ity of a col­lab­o­ra­tion. He said it was part of the com­pany’s de­sire to en­gage with the vanguard of young com­posers.

“The scale, sub­ject mat­ters and sonic worlds of th­ese works feels so im­me­di­ate, their plea­sures so vis­ceral, that I felt they would be ideal for our au­di­ences,” he said via email.

Lit­tle is work­ing on a new opera about the last night in the life of John F. Kennedy that is ex­pected to pre­miere next year at Fort Worth Opera. “The mu­sic is fin­ished. I’m work­ing on the or­ches­tra­tions now,” Lit­tle said.

The highly an­tic­i­pated piece, which has been in the works for a few years, de­picts the 35th pres­i­dent and first lady in the city of Fort Worth the day be­fore he is as­sas­si­nated in Dal­las.

“Their last night in Fort Worth has al­ways been over­shad­owed by what hap­pened in Dal­las,” the com­poser said. “I did re­search and tried to find a way of telling his last night. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily a lin­ear story. It ap­proaches JFK and Jackie as hu­man be­ings rather than the myth.”

James Matthew Daniel

JOHN KELLY plays Prince and Lau­ren Wor­sham as Lisa in the provoca­tive and some­times dis­turb­ing “Dog Days,” in­spired by clas­si­cal mu­sic and heavy metal. It’s mak­ing its lo­cal pre­miere with L.A. Opera.

Jay L. Clen­denin Los An­ge­les Times

DAVID LIT­TLE, left, and Royce Vavrek on the set of “Dog Days,” an avant-garde piece aimed at broad­en­ing L.A. Opera’s au­di­ence.

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