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The Scarlet Ibis
Photograph: Cory WeaverThe Scarlet Ibis

Why you should see my opera in the PROTOTYPE festival

By David Cote

You probably know me as theater editor and theater critic of this fine media outlet. Or you see me on weekends reviewing shows for NY1’s On Stage. Apparently, that’s not enough: In recent years I’ve been branching into playwriting and libretto writing. And now I’m here to bang the drum and invite you to my latest effort, the world premiere of The Scarlet Ibis, a full-length opera headlining this year’s PROTOTYPE festival at HERE. The Scarlet Ibis fuses singers and puppetry to tell the story of Doodle, a remarkable, disabled boy whose older brother pushes him to be “normal.” The title bird, an exotic creature blown off course, makes a fateful appearance in the boys’ lives. The opera, composed by Stefan Weisman, is inspired by the 1960 short story by James Hurst of the same name. It’s aimed at adult as well as teen audiences (good for age 12 and up).

We run Thursday through Jan 17, eight performances only. Jan 8, 10, 11 and 14 are sold out, so get your tickets now. Need convincing? Here are six reasons why you should dust off that monocle and head to the opera.

My opera is much cheaper than the Met
While the Met offers affordable rush tickets, they’re not guaranteed. For $25 you get good seats in an intimate venue, closer to the band and the performers. Buy now.

It’s in English—good English
Some folks still think opera must be sung in Italian, French or German—anything but English. Tin-eared nonsense. The mother tongue worked just fine for Purcell, Gay, Gilbert & Sullivan, Britten, Bernstein and countless living composers today. The language I’ve used for the libretto is colloquial, poetic, sacred, kid-silly, mystical and skeptical—good to sing and, I hope, to hear. Plus: you won’t have to follow any distracting supertitles.

Our director and designers are amazeballs
Obie-winning director Mallory Catlett has assembled an unbeatable team of design wizards: sets by Joseph Silovsky; puppets and animation by Tom Lee; lighting by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew; costumes by Andreea Mincic. They’ve painstakingly built a shadowy, dreamy, fluid world that takes us from fraught family interiors to mysterious swamp exteriors. Of course, puppets are central to the action, and the appearance of the title bird is breathtaking.

Isn’t it time you saw an honest-to-goodness opera?
Maybe you stick to the pop music of your teens and twenties. Maybe you’re a Broadway cast-album fanatic. Maybe you abhor everything but Norwegian death metal and Ethiopian jazz. I respect your niche, but why not step outside your comfort zone and luxuriate in 90 minutes of Stefan Weisman’s gorgeous, richly orchestrated music? Labels are odious, but you could say he bridges a post-minimalist vibe and a tonal vocabulary that is moody, vibrant and introspective, with a deep emotional impact. We’ve found ways to work various idioms into the score—lullaby, church hymn, worksong, vaudeville patter and arias that will set your heart aflutter. Singing this score is the best new-opera cast in town: Eric S. Brenner, Hai-Ting Chinn, Abigail Fischer, Nicole Mitchell and Keith Phares.

You won’t get into the Courtney Love thing
Perhaps you’ve heard that the rock celebrity is appearing downstairs from us in a show called Kansas City Choir Boy. True to the festival’s mission, ace songwriter Todd Almond and Love, along with director Kevin Newbury, aim to expand the boundaries of what’s considered an opera. Is it anything with a sung element? Overpowering emotions? Abstract concepts? Guess you’ll never know—their run is completely sold out. So you might as well come see The Scarlet Ibis!

It will break your heart
From the dramaturg who helped develop the opera, the performers who sing it, the American Modern Ensemble musicians who play the score (under the brilliant baton of Steven Osgood) and my own experience, I’ve heard again and again: this is an intense, deeply moving opera. It deals with children’s cruelty, disability, fear of death, wonder of nature and the aching urge to transcend pain. Yes, there’s also humor and hope. But bring your own Kleenex.

Of course, if tickets keep going this fast, you may not be able to get in. Therefore let me also warmly recommend the other PROTOTYPE offerings: Sunken Cathedral, Toxic Psalms, Winter's Child, Aging Magician and Timur and the Dime Museum. Details here.


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