The Locusts are Coming (Operatically)!

I previously wrote about a collaborative project with Dr. Anne Guzzo—an acclaimed composer in the Department of Music—to produce a chamber opera (How Science OPERAtes). We are excited to announce that LOCUST: THE OPERA will premiere at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming, on September 28th at 7:00 pm, with a matinee performance the next day at 1:00 pm.

This is the story of the Rocky Mountain locust, whose swarms blackened the skies of North America until it suddenly and mysteriously disappeared in the early 1900s. To provide a sense of how this epic tale unfolds, here is the scripted opening of Scene I.

____________________________________________________________________________

Setting

The prairie; a buck-and-rail fence, dried grass and sagebrush, intense sunlight with a background of tan, golden and sage green.

The Entomologist enters stage left, methodically swinging his sweep net along the ground in a metronomic arc to collect grasshoppers.

ENTOMOLOGIST

So many devastating grasshoppers.

So many despairing ranchers.

(Pauses to wipe sweat from his brow with the back of his sleeve)

Too much to drink last night.

(Sighs deeply, lays down and falls asleep. Moments later, there is the sound of rustling wings as the Locust sweeps in gracefully stage right. She approaches the slumbering Entomologist. He rises on one elbow, half awake)

ENTOMOLOGIST

(Startled by the apparition)

Who—what—are you?

LOCUST

They call me Melanoplus spretus.

ENTOMOLOGIST

(Bewildered)

The Rocky Mountain locust?

LOCUST

Yes.

ENTOMOLOGIST

Extinct for a century,

how have you returned?

LOCUST

Trillions of my kind

once spread across the land

in storm clouds of life.

Some were blown into the mountains

and frozen within glaciers.

Now our tombs are melting,

releasing us from the ice.

ENTOMOLOGIST

(Stammers)

B-b-but they are dead.

LOCUST

(Ominously)

Bodily, yes.

Howbeit the spirit of our kind

is freed to wander the earth.

ENTOMOLOGIST

(Fearfully)

A ghost?!

What do you want?

LOCUST

(Sharply)

Answers.

ENTOMOLOGIST

(Confused)

To what?

LOCUST

(Grandiosely but wistfully)

My swarms eclipsed the sun

and outweighed the bison herds.

ENTOMOLOGIST

(Annoyed but worried)

What is your question?

LOCUST

(Angrily)

How did we vanish?

Who was our killer?

Tell me!

(Locust leaves stage right and Entomologists fall back into his slumber. Rancher arrives stage left and nudges Entomologist with his boot)

RANCHER

Are you alright?

____________________________________________________________________________

The final line of the opera, sung by the locusts’ ghost is, “What have we really learned about ourselves and our place in the natural world?” The collision between this species and our own is a timeless tale of arrogance and humility. And perhaps never before in human history has it been more vital for us to come to terms with our own power and responsibility regarding the natural world.

#opera #science #nature #Mystery

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