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Published August 28, 2018
“Locust: The Opera,” a one-hour chamber opera written by two University of Wyoming professors, will premiere in Jackson Sept. 28-29.
The original piece will be performed Friday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 29, at 1 p.m. at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. A reception follows the evening performance. People are encouraged to sign up for free tickets at www.bit.ly/LocustsOpera. A $20 free-will donation is suggested.
To make the musical event even more enticing, UW’s popular Saturday University program will feature the team of UW faculty members who created the opera from 9 a.m.-noon Sept. 29 at the Teton County Public Library.
The chamber opera is based on UW Professor Jeff Lockwood’s acclaimed book “Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier.”
Anne Guzzo, a UW associate professor of music, composed “Locust’s” score, while Lockwood, a professor of natural sciences and humanities, wrote the lyrics. The art director is Ashley Hope Carlisle, a UW art associate professor of sculpture.
“Wyoming doesn’t often -- or maybe ever -- host the world premiere of an opera. But then, not many operas have been written by Wyoming artists for Wyoming audiences,” Lockwood says. “Add to that the fact that the libretto (lyrics), music, costumes and scenery all come from Wyoming artists, and attendees will be treated to a rare, perhaps unprecedented theatrical performance.”
He says the opera is an environmental murder mystery.
“It is the story of the Rocky Mountain locust, an iconic species that blackened the skies in the 1800s with huge swarms but suddenly disappeared forever at the turn of the 20th century,” Lockwood adds.
As an entomologist-turned-writer and philosopher, Lockwood maintains that telling stories through music is one of the best ways to promote scientific literacy and reveal the history of the West.
“Jeff’s lyrics are potent, but music provides the emotional lens for me -- and perhaps the audience -- to truly understand the story and to be moved by its message of caring for the natural world,” Guzzo says.
In the opera, the ghost of the Rocky Mountain locust compels a scientist to figure out how a creature that once numbered in the trillions survives only in stories such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie.” Acclaimed soprano Cristin Colvin, from Denver, will sing in the lead role of the locust.
“I am thrilled to perform a role in which I am not purely human, but a dream figure that allows me to explore other aspects of the ‘self’ in philosophical, psychological, even spiritual terms,” Colvin says.
Carlisle says her vision for Colvin’s costume is to “morph the images of locust, woman and ghost in an ethereal presence so that, when she moves, you see an insect, but when she sings, you experience humanity.”
Colvin will be joined by Todd Teske, a tenor singing the role of the scientist, and Thomas Erik Angerhofer, a baritone singing the role of the rancher. The Colorado Chamber Orchestra will provide the instrumental music, along with another innovation.
The audience will perform the role of a locust swarm, using sheets of cellophane coordinated with a brief rehearsal with the conductor, Thomas Blomster, just before the performance begins.
“In a long career, you find yourself doing the same pieces repeatedly. I am excited to find new works and doubly so with Anne’s creativity, talent and reputation as a composer,” Blomster says. “I want to be honest to the musical score. Too often, classical musicians seek to interpret a work, and I want to realize the composer’s intentions for the audience.”
The opera was developed with support from UW’s College of Arts and Sciences, Biodiversity Institute, Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, and the UW-National Park Service Research Center. Funding also was provided by the Wyoming Humanities Council, the Ucross Foundation and the Laramie Audubon Society.
Through support from the UW Global Engagement Office and private donors, “Locust: The Opera” will be featured at the 13th International Congress of Orthopterology -- the study of katydids, crickets, grasshoppers and locusts -- in Agadir, Morocco, in March.
“And after that? Perhaps the opera will take the world by storm, just like the locusts whose story it tells,” Lockwood says.