Chamber opera in one act
Based on the novel by Lois Lowry
Sop, mezzo, 2 bar, treble (12-14), young soprano (12), young mezzo (8-10), SSA Chorus or SATB Chorus (both available), Children’s Chorus
2 vln, vc, pno, hp, fl (picc/alto), Bb cl (Eb/bass), trb, 3 perc
Commissioned by Minnesota Opera and Lyric Opera of Kansas City
Available from Subito Music
Ask anyone under age 28 about The Giver and you’ll get a strong response. For many young people, The Giver is the first book they read that truly talks up to them. It demands a level of both outward observation and inward reflection that is new and, judging from the passion so many feel for the book, thrilling. Why was it so clear to me the book wanted to be an opera? First and last, it is filled with musical moments. Every time the Giver transmits a memory to Jonas there is an outpouring of descriptive text crying out to be turned into orchestral music. There is no stage action: only music. Every time Jonas has a moment of reflection or realization, this is the expression of the inner voice that is the very stuff of opera. The characters each have utterly distinct voices – including Mother, Father, Lily, Fiona, Asher – who sang to me in distinct rhythms and styles. The vagaries of the story itself, its largeness and opacity, the fact that much about The Community is not articulated, the continuous thread of question marks for both Jonas and the audience, all these are made to order for dramatic music theater.
What the Giver does not have that I needed for this adaptation was a large role for Chorus. So I invented one. Or rather, I went back in time to create a piece of theater that the ancient Greeks would find completely familiar. When we read the novel, we assume – though Lois Lowry never explicitly states – that the story is set in the nebulous future. But this is just an assumption. So I have chosen to set the story in the nebulous past. Today is the one day each year that this cautionary story is retold “to our children, to our children’s children.” The Telling, as it is called in the opera, is done by a Greek-style Chorus. Just as in Euripides, the Chorus frames the narrative we are about to witness; it reveals the thoughts of the characters to us; it discusses events and characters amongst itself, even to the point of squabbling; it entertains us; it carries the action forward, sometimes even physically; it sets the stage and creates theatrical effects; it provides the actor/singers for all but the principal roles.
One last little note: Ms. Lowry planted a little throw-away bit in the story that was a sparkling gift to a composer. During his training, Jonas asks the Giver, When you were my age, “did you see beyond like me?” And the Giver says, very simply, “No. I heard beyond,” and they move on to other things. Well, the fact that the Giver retains musical memories was just too compelling to pass up. I had a lot of fun with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (keep your ear on the Community’s ‘Patriotic Hymn’.) Listen also for Mozart’s Voi ché sapete, a bit of Schumann’s Märchenbilder, a little Brahms Symphony #2, and a beautiful American folk song. Some are obvious, some not so much. Thank you, Ms. Lowry, for agreeing with me that music is part of what makes us human.
OPERAVORE blog on WQXR on April 27, 2012:
Young Adult Fiction Goes Dystopian, Opera Follows Suit
“It’s in this sense that The Giver may be one of those “perfect” operas in theory, and could signify an interesting course for contemporary opera. The drama and conflict are there, with some scenes begging to be sung for their cathartic depth and emotional peaks. But, more importantly, it’s one of those stories that transcends region and time. It’s still taught in schools and lapped up by students in a way where classic dystopian literature like Brave New World and Animal Farm occasionally fall flat. It is, for a young generation, the type of work that resonates as firmly and profoundly in the 21st century as Greek legend and drama did for denizens of the 17th century. And, really, is there all that much separating young Jonas from Orpheus?”
A “remarkable new work… Kander’s adaptation ably tackles the philosophical complexities of Lowry’s Newbery Award-winning dystopian story set in the not-too-distant future. In a particularly clever stroke, Kander briskly handles the novel’s expository details and narrative movement by means of a Greek-style chorus; her instrumental scoring is atmospheric and unobtrusive, and the production’s chamber orchestra performed them sensitively. But the vocals take priority. … this isn’t really an opera driven by grand arias or scenery-chewing relationship melodrama – the ensemble is primary, as fits a tale centered on “the Community.” This adaptation is a sophisticated and subtle work, in terms of both music and story. Like Lowry’s novel, it never panders.”
Minnesota Opera invited several young journalists to the final dress rehearsal with the proviso that they could blog about the show, but not write a proper review. Here are excerpts:
Twin Cities Daily Planet
April 30, 2012
“Just about 20 years ago when Lois Lowry’s The Giver was published, there was no “dystopian rage.” Today, when The Hunger Games trilogy is taking today’s youth by storm and the movie is grossing a gross amount of money in the box office, I still stand by The Giver. …” MORGAN HALASKA
“My English teacher in 7th grade read The Giver out loud to us and I remember being enraptured in the story. Middle school was, as I’m sure it is for almost everyone, a tumultuous time. The Giver reflects the angst of Jonas, who doesn’t know his place in the world. And, in all honesty, I feel like I can still relate; I’m still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. The tale is not a feel-good by any means, but for some reason that’s exactly how it made me feel. Knowing that what you’re going through isn’t unique is comforting, and that the alternative to “sameness” is preferable; even if it means experiencing pain….The production made me feel excited about the book again like I did in 7th grade.” LAUREN VAN SCHEPEN
A Journal of Creative Things
The Giver was already completely sold out by the time we saw the dress rehearsal. If that weren’t the case, I’d be urging everyone to go see it … I’m confident that this opera will keep playing…. because it’s good enough to last. Keep your eyes peeled for it in the future.
Gimme Gimme Gimme
Minnesota Daily – U. of Minneapolis/St. Paul
By Griffin Fillipitch
It is odd that, instead of film or comic, opera is the medium that an adaptation of “The Giver” would take. But that is what happened last weekend at the Minnesota Opera, thanks to composer Susan Kander and a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $20,000.
“It’s one of the first stories that children encounter that doesn’t talk down to them. It talks up to them,” Kander said. “It really is not kid fare.”
She approached the music with that in mind and subsequently produced a modern and complex soundtrack to the story of Jonas.… [T]he music was not just challenging for the sake of being challenging. At times, the dissonant and choppy [music] was truly fascinating and always matched the eerie and intense emotion of the source material.