How Science OPERAtes
Few people grasp the complexities of science and still fewer engage the richness of opera—so why not combine the two?! This seems absurd, but the venture is also ridiculously intriguing. I teamed up with Dr. Anne Guzzo—an acclaimed composer in the Department of Music—to propose writing and producing a chamber opera about the Rocky Mountain locust. If you think that’s remarkable, what’s really amazing is that we received funding.
Our pitch was creative and maybe even plausible. The “problem” was the pressing need for scientific literacy, along with the challenge of engaging the public with forms of communication that are evocative, memorable and intelligent. The “solution” was obvious. Opera and musical theater are experiencing a resurgence, as evidenced by Hamilton (eleven Tony Awards and with total attendance surpassing half a million) and La La Land (six Academy Awards with ticket sales of $340 million).
Story is central to connecting with people—and this approach could be used to tell the tale of the Rocky Mountain locust, with swarms that once blackened the skies with trillions of insects in the largest animal migrations in recorded history. Even more amazing was its sudden disappearance, the last living specimen being collected in 1902.
And so, we are developing Locust: The Opera, an environmental murder mystery in which solving the century-old extinction of an iconic species provides lessons for the modern world. The opera is based on my book, Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier (Basic, 2004), which Annie Proulx described as, “Gripping… fascinating… an entomological thriller.”
My job is to distill a 100,000-word book into a 1,200-word libretto—a form occupying an enchanting place between poetry and prose. A 98.8% reduction shouldn’t be a problem for a writer who has taught workshops on the short-form. I simply need to craft a compelling story involving: Entomologist (tenor), Rancher (baritone) and Locusts (soprano). Imagine... In the opening scene during a modern-day grasshopper outbreak on western grasslands, an entomologist dozes off and is visited by the ghost of the Rocky Mountain locust who promises to haunt the scientist until he finds her killer…
This is going to be a wild ride with an anticipated premiere in late summer, followed by the release of a professionally produced DVD which will make me the most famous entomological librettist in history (okay, the only one, but still).