The Center City Opera Theater's mission is "New work, new artists, new audiences" so to fulfill this mission they actively commission new operas. This is a time consuming venture, to be sure. It takes, on average, two years and an enormous amount of work before the first performance. The opera still under development, "Slaying the Dragon", is on its ninth revision and there will be more fine tuning before its production run between June 7-17, 2012.
I had the pleasure of attending their most recent workshop on Sunday, which included a complete run through of the opera with minimal staging and costumes, and piano instead of orchestra. It was performed in a small black box theater at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia by a cast mostly filled by members of their young artist program. The program is a year long post-graduate professional training session that provides the opportunity to perform major roles in at least two productions. The many workshops leading up to the production add more possibilities for hands on training.
The workshop started with an introduction by Andrew Kurtz, general and artistic director, and Michael Ching, composer. It was interesting to learn about the progression of the opera from the early workshops where the libretto was simply read, to its current, and almost complete form. Composer Ching was given only a few constraints: Less than 18 musicians, 1 intermission, and a run time of under 2 hours. Ching also believed that the music should include some "hummers" so he set out to produce accessible music with pieces reflecting the various musical tastes of the characters. The libretto was by Ellen Frankel and was based on the book "Not by the Sword" by Kathryn Watterson.
Truth is often stranger than fiction, and so the story portrayed in the opera, based on real events, leaves you pondering the power of faith and belief in second chances. I won't reveal the details in case you wish to attend free of spoiler alerts, but I can say that it is a highly relevant and thought provoking story that will resonate with all audience members on some level.
The workshop ended with a dialog between the audience, cast, and creators. There were members of the audience that had attended a number of the workshops and were familiar with the progression of the work from its early stages. The constructive suggestions and comments were noted by the creators and it was obvious that they took the feedback seriously. This was a very refreshing approach, as so much in the world of creative arts is done in a vacuum. How many other disciplines would benefit from this approach?
Mark your calendars in June for the production run of "Slaying the Dragon" at the Prince Music Theater. This will surely be an opera that will spark discussion, and I'm looking forward to seeing it in it's final form.