August 11, 2016

Dog DaysOn September 9, VIA Records – the recording arm of VisionIntoArt at National Sawdust – presents the digital release of Dog Days, the first full-length opera by David T. Little and Royce Vavrek, who have been hailed as “one of the most exciting composer-librettist teams working in opera today” (Wall Street Journal). For this world premiere recording, conductor Alan Pierson leads Little’s ensemble, Newspeak, and the original cast, starring Tony nominee Lauren Worsham alongside Marnie Breckenridge, James Bobick, Michael Marcotte, Peter Tantsits, and Cherry Duke. Under the formidable direction of Robert Woodruff, it was the dystopian Dog Days that convinced the New York Timesbeyond any doubt that opera has both a relevant present and a bright future.” And the work continues to resonate; naming Dog Days a standout of recent decades, the paper concluded: “It’s only a matter of time before this riveting show is confirmed as a groundbreaking American classic.” Click here to see the video trailer for Dog Days.

Composer David T. Little explains:

Dog Days is a very 21st-century opera. It’s embracing technology, it’s embracing amplification, it’s embracing a kind of gritty realism that you maybe wouldn’t see in earlier works. Dog Days is definitely asking very serious questions about civilization, about humanity.”

Based on a short story by Orange Prize finalist Judy Budnitz, Dog Days is the tale of 13-year-old Lisa, who lives with her parents and elder brothers in a post-apocalyptic wartime future, with only occasional government care packages for food. Lonely in her isolation, she befriends a man who loiters and begs for scraps outside the family home. He lives as a dog, walking on all fours, dressing in a homemade dog costume, and speaking only in grunts. And yet, as Lisa discovers, it is not he whose humanity will be most conclusively compromised once the food runs out. As director Robert Woodruff notes, the opera depicts “the last ten minutes of civilization.” Click here to see Little, Vavrek, and Woodruff talk about Dog Days.

Scenes from the opera premiered at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall in 2009, as part of the Dawn Upshaw and Osvaldo Golijov Young Artists Concert, and it was premiered in full three years later by Peak Performances @Montclair State (New Jersey) in association with Beth Morrison Projects. Since then, Dog Days has opened Fort Worth Opera’s 2015 season, launched Los Angeles Opera’s new “Off Grand” series, and headlined New York’s 2016 Prototype Festival, all with the original cast and ensemble, besides making its European premiere with two new German productions earlier this year.

At each juncture, the critical response has been overwhelming. As WQXR put it, the world premiere “created a sensation,” prompting the Wall Street Journal to report:

“This gripping two-hour opera … wastes no time: A taut libretto and varied, original music deliver its grim story like a punch in the stomach.”

The New York Times agreed:

“It might all amount to mere provocation had Mr. Little and Mr. Vavrek not delivered a taut, nuanced work that clawed beneath the surface of every situation. Profanities pop like a string of firecrackers in Mr. Vavrek’s libretto, yet its poetry is indelible and affecting. Mr. Little responded with music of emotional insight and charm, suggesting pop-music modes at times without ever resorting to pastiche. Harsh, angular lines and abrasive textures cede to wistful melodies and touches of hymnody; unorthodox instrumental techniques enhance mood without distracting.”

Similarly, after the opera’s season-opening run at Fort Worth Opera, Opera News wrote:

“Gripping. … The three-act work held the attention of a basically conservative audience and, at the end, left them dazed. The multifaceted score – part tonal, part dissonant – was never less than riveting.”

Alex Ross named it one of the New Yorker’s 10 notable performances of 2015, saying:

“Amid a spate of ineffectual American operas on inoffensive themes, David T. Little’s ‘Dog Days,’ which had its première in 2012 and which I saw in a presentation by the L.A. Opera, is stunning in its ferocity. … It is something like the ‘Walking Dead’ of modern opera.”

And after its New York premiere, the Guardian confirmed:

“Little presents ‘opera theater’ at its finest. … Dog Days hits on all cylinders.”

As for the performers, the New York Times observed:

“The vocal cast is uniformly fine, with particularly moving work from James Bobick as Howard, a father desperate to preserve his family, and Marnie Breckenridge as Lisa’s mother, whose emotional and physical reserves diminish along with the rations dropped from an unseen military helicopter.”

In particular, numerous commentators singled out Lauren Worsham’s unsettling account of “Mirror, Mirror,” an aria in which the adolescent Lisa – near starved, and delirious – likens her emaciated form to those of the models she longs to resemble; the Los Angeles Times admired the soprano’s “feverish delivery,” and Opera News her “ever-expanding coloratura richness.” Click here to see Worsham sing “Mirror, Mirror.”

Of the musicians of Newspeak, Little’s ensemble of the past 11 years, the New York Times observed:

“Mr. Little’s new-music band, Newspeak, augmented with guests and conducted by Alan Pierson in plain view upstage, played with a stylishness born of familiarity and commitment.”

Recorded live during the work’s five-performance run at Los Angeles Opera, Dog Days marks the seventh release on the VIA Records label, which launched last season to disseminate examples of VisionIntoArt’s work. As Q2 Music has said: “The least surprising thing about VIA Records is the sheer mega-wattage of talent brought on board by an organization whose central premise is interdisciplinary collaboration.Dog Days was recorded by Nick Tipp, edited and mixed by Andrew McKenna Lee and mastered by Joe Lambert.

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VIA Records: Dog Days
Digital release: September 9
Physical release: TBA

Composed by David T. Little
Libretto by Royce Vavrek
Based on the short story “Dog Days” by Judy Budnitz
Directed by Robert Woodruff
Music Direction by Alan Pierson

Lisa: Lauren Worsham, soprano
Father: James Bobick, baritone
Mother: Marnie Breckenridge, soprano
Elliot: Michael Marcotte, tenor
Pat: Peter Tantsits, tenor
Captain: Cherry Duke, mezzo-soprano
Prince: John Kelly, performance artist (silent role)

Ensemble: NEWSPEAK
James Johnston, piano and synthesizer
Taylor Levine, guitar
Eileen Mack, clarinets
Courtney Orlando, violin
Kris Saebo, bass
Nathan Schram, viola
Brian Snow, cello
Peter Wise, percussion
Molly Yeh, percussion

© 21C Media Group, August 2016