The Wild Beast of the Bungalow Finally Unleashed at Oberlin

The Wild Beast of the Bungalow, an operatic triptych with libretto by Royce Vavrek and music by me, will receive its world premiere production at Oberlin Conservatory in January 2020. This constitutes the conservatory’s Winter Term Opera, which tends to be more experimental fare. Royce definitely knows the drill, what with his libretti for Proving Up and Angel’s Bone having occupied this spot in prior seasons’ programming. We are so honored to be the authors of the inaugural work of the Oberlin Opera Commissioning Project, made possible by Elizabeth and Justus ’71 Schlichting.

As with most operas, it’s been an extremely long haul for this piece to see the light of day in its fullest form—it will be 12 years by opening night, in fact! Mermaid in the Jar, which is Part One (adapted from the short story by Sheila Heti), is the first opera I ever attempted to compose (outside of school exercises), at Royce’s urging. Little did I know it would set me on a lifelong path of writing opera, and I should say I’ve learned a lot along the way. We began it in 2008 for a concert performance in 2009. After that were readings of Part Two, Prairie Dogs (inspired by the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta) with The Coterie and Opera on Tap in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Hartford Opera Theater presented a minimally staged Mermaid in the Jar in 2013 as part of its New In November series. We had additional concert performances of excerpts here and there. Then in 2016, Center for Contemporary Opera produced a developmental semi-staged workshop reading of about 90 minutes of material including some new scenes from Part Three, Fine and Dandy (featuring a barbershop quartet of singing chicken pox germs and more). But it still wasn’t complete, and the three parts didn’t quite hang together in a cohesive way just yet. After a long hiatus away from the piece for other project commitments, this upcoming production has allowed Royce and me to come back together to give it a coherent framework and finally finish the hat, so to speak! We’re about to have a piano/vocal workshop with the students in September to see what we’ve got in its entirety. Oberlin has generously commissioned the orchestration, which I’ve already been working on for a few weeks now; it’s been a blast so far, and I never say that about orchestrating anything.

As a bonus, this is a pretty fun homecoming for me. A whopping 25 years ago, I participated in Oberlin’s summer Vocal Academy for high school students. I was a pretty terrible and clueless singer, but it was great training, and I’m still in touch with some of my classmates from back then!

You can find more information in the new Oberlin Arts Guide and preview a few tracks from past developmental performances on my Media page.

But that’s not all! Also coming to campuses (perhaps) near you this season:

  • No Ladies in the Lady’s Book at University of Alabama in March

  • Ethel Smyth Plays Golf in Limbo at Carthage College in April

Check out the Events Calendar for specifics on all of the above!

Rachel Peters