Rabbit Redux: Br’er Rabbit makes his opera debut

By Collin Kelley
Editor

The Atlanta Opera will premiere Rabbit Tales, based on the Br’er Rabbit stories by Joel Chandler Harris, at The Wren’s Nest on Saturday, Oct. 29.

The one-hour children’s opera is the first ever commissioned by the Atlanta Opera and will tour Georgia elementary schools during the 2011-12 season.

The libretto, written by Atlanta-based librettist and playwright, Madeleine St. Romain, will be based on the antics of Br’er Rabbit using the storytelling traditions of Western, Central and Southern Africa.

The score, composed by Atlanta-based flutist and composer Nicole Chamberlain, will be written for four voice types, and will incorporate melodies and rhythms from African, Native American and Cajun music, as well as the blues.

The opera is under the direction of Park Cofield, who is known for is work at The Center for Puppetry Arts and his hit adaptation of The Red Balloon for Theater du Reve.

“The challenge for this touring production was making sure it could fit in a passenger van,” Cofield said. “The sets, costumes, keyboards and actors all have to be able to travel lightly.”

St. Romain spent countless hours reading the Joel Chandler Harris stories before deciding to pick one of his lesser-known characters, Teenchy-Tiny Duck, to frame the story.

“I wanted to use a female character, and there aren’t that many in Harris’ stories,” St. Romain said. “Then I found Teenchy- Tiny Duck and it gave me an intrepid young heroin and a place for Brer Rabbit to be helpful rather than his usual trickster self.”

In Rabbit Tales, Teenchy-Tiny Duck finds a gold purse, only to have it stolen by King Lion. Enter Br’er Rabbit with a plan to get the purse back.

Cofield said opera-loving parents will find plenty to like in the story, too, since the music has familiar phrases from Wagner and Mozart. St. Romain said the music is complex, but the words will be very easy for young children to understand.

The four singers who will take the show on the road will greet students as storytellers and then use simple costumes like ears, tails and paws to represent the various characters.

Cofield said the opera will be interactive, encouraging students to make sounds and share the journey with Br’er Rabbit and Teenchy-Tiny Duck.
For more about Rabbit Tales, visit atlantaopera.org or wrensnestonline.com.