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Published September 24, 2019
“Locust: The Opera,” a one-hour chamber opera written by two University of Wyoming professors, will make its debut in Laramie Saturday, Oct. 5.
The original piece will be performed at the Gryphon Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through the Gryphon Theatre at www.gryphontheatre.org. Tickets are $15 for the public and $7 for students and senior citizens.
The UW Office of the President and the Wyoming Humanities Council support the production.
The opera premiered in Jackson last year to rave reviews and was performed this spring in Morocco.
“Wyoming doesn’t often -- or maybe ever -- host the world premiere of an opera,” says UW Professor Jeff Lockwood, one of the creators of the original piece. “Not many operas have been written by Wyoming artists for Wyoming audiences.”
Lockwood, a professor of natural sciences and humanities, wrote the lyrics. 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,” he says.
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,” says Anne Guzzo, a UW professor of music and the opera’s composer.
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.”
The opera is based on Lockwood’s book “Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier.”
“But, will there really be an acclaimed soprano playing the role of a locust?” Lockwood asks. “Absolutely, and one of the highlights of the staging is her costume, which is being designed by Ashley Hope Carlisle.”
Cristin Colvin, an acclaimed soprano from Denver, has the “Locust” lead role.
Carlisle, art director and UW professor of sculpture, 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 describes how she undertakes the unusual role.
“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,” she says.
Todd Teske, a tenor singing the role of the scientist, and Thomas Erik Angerhofer, a baritone singing the role of the rancher, will join Colvin on stage. The Colorado Chamber Orchestra will combine with UW faculty members to provide the instrumental music, along with another innovation, Lockwood says.
The audience will perform the role of a locust swarm, using sheets of tissue paper coordinated with a brief and fun-filled rehearsal with the conductor, Thomas Blomster, just before the performance begins, Lockwood adds.
“In a long career, you find yourself doing the same pieces repeatedly. I’m excited to find new works and doubly so with Anne’s creativity, talent and reputation as a composer,” says Blomster, who values the opportunity to work with new music. “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 creative team of Carlisle, Guzzo and Lockwood is working with the organizing committee of the World Conservation Congress with an eye to a performance in France next summer.
“Perhaps the opera will take the world by storm, just like the locusts whose story it tells,” Lockwood says.