Rachael Powles is an incoming junior at Sauquoit Valley High School, where she is co-editor of her school newspaper as well as an active member of the drama club. This is her first production with The Glimmerglass Festival.
From The Picture of Dorian Gray to The Importance of Being Ernest, the works of Oscar Wilde are today regarded as classics, despite the criticism and scorn he faced during his lifetime. Few people, however, know that Wilde dabbled in fairytales. His short story collection, The Happy Prince and Other Tales, mixes the dark tones of the Brothers Grimm with the optimistic aphorisms of Aesop’s Fables to create entertaining plots enjoyable for all ages. This summer, two such stories have been reimagined as an opera, brought to life for the first time on the Cooperstown Theatre Festival stage.
Wilde Tales, a combination of the stories The Happy Prince and The Remarkable Rocket, stars members of the Glimmerglass Youth Chorus as well as several Young Artists. Composer Laura Karpman was inspired by the deep themes at the heart of the comedic stories. “They carry an important message of hope,” Karpman states. “They take sophisticated themes and boil them down to digestible, quickly understandable nuggets.” With Glimmerglass dramaturg and librettist Kelley Rourke, the four-time Emmy winner crafted an opera that answers questions at the heart of the human experience while remaining upbeat and highlighting the stunning voices of the actors, some as young as 13. “It’s an amazing experience,” says Youth Chorus member Giovanni Rivera-Litz. The rising high school senior portrays a Roman Candle in his third world-premiere opera with The Glimmerglass Festival. “No one has done what you are about to create, and it’s up to you to set the foundation for the future actors.”
The one-act opera follows a restless swallow, a grievinggold statue and a pompous firework in their hesitant quests to find the true meaning of beauty. A chorus of birds transports the audience via poetic lyrics and truly avian dance steps to a world not unlike our own, where good deeds are overshadowed by materialism. The glittering stature of The Happy Prince, filled with regret for the wasteful life he led, enlists the help of the self-centered Swallow in order to improve the lives of poor. At the same time, the Remarkable Rocket (his words, not ours) must come to terms with the fact that he is not the center of the universe after he is deemed unfit to be ignited at a celebration. The tales overlap during a bittersweet climax as the characters discover, to quote Karpman, “that beauty is what’s in your heart, not on your feet.”
For opera beginners, Wilde Tales is the perfect first show, combining stunning sets, costumes, and vocals with Wilde’s whimsical plot and language. Rivera-Litz states that audiences can expect to see, “at least every color of the rainbow!” Truly a family opera, the world premiere of Wilde Tales deserves as much credit as its Mainstage counterparts. As Laura Karpman put it, “Come see this show; it might just change you a little.”