The Atlanta Opera has been a part of the arts and culture scene in Atlanta, Georgia since 1979. This year they commissioned their first opera, Rabbit Tales. A contemporary, one-hour children’s opera, Rabbit Tales, does not just retell the “Br’er Rabbit” stories, it weaves together characters and ideas from Native American, Cajun, and African folktales. The score for this opera also contains a mixture of styles with hints of blues, folk, and even standard opera repertoire.
The Atlanta Opera collaborated with The Wren’s Nest, a community center and historical museum on the Westside that was home to Joel Chandler Harris’s family from 1845-1908, to create an opera that addresses history, community, nature, and diversity. Emmalee Iden, The Atlanta Opera’s Education Director, connected with Atlanta-based playwright Madeleine St. Romain and Atlanta-based composer Nicole Chamberlain to write and compose this opera making the entire production process a local endeavor. An important factor for this production was audience involvement. Throughout the opera, audience members were asked to sound like gusts of wind, clap, and even cluck like chickens. This connection to the story not only helped keep students interested, but also engaged the adults in the storytelling. This allowed EVERYONE to be a part of the opera.
The Atlanta Opera originally created Rabbit Tales, as part of their ongoing school tours to connect Kindergarten-5th Grade students with opera. However, due to the enthusiastic response of the community to the world premiere at The Wren’s Nest in October 2011, the company added four public performances to the touring schedule. Rabbit Tales toured the state of Georgia and presented over 60 performances in schools and community spaces throughout the 2011-2012 season creating dialogue about community and diversity.
Another children’s opera addressing community, collaboration, and diversity has been set for the 2012-2013 season. Stone Soup: An Operatic Fable in One Delicious Act, based on the children’s fable, will be part of the community and school education program at The Atlanta Opera. Following the success of Rabbit Tales, this opera will also include community performances to encourage dialogue about what makes a happy community.
By illustrating that opera is another mechanism for storytelling and not just an “elitist” art form for the symphony hall, The Atlanta Opera has opened the doors for continued community dialogue and engagement.
And one last plug: I will be in San Antonio this week for the Americans for the Arts Annual Conference. AftA is sponsoring a book signing for me. Building Communities, Not Audiences will (at last) be on sale. It is my understanding that the signing will take place at 4:00 pm on Friday, June 6 at CenterStage. I’d love to see you there.