This article, by David Bass and Amy Krane appeared in Opera For Youth Journal Vol. 22 No. 4 (Summer 2000) In the Works pp. 34-36
Classical. Jazz. Blues. Ballads for the romantic. Arias for the professional. One-line solos for the very young. David Basss Space Opera has it all. Written in 1998 by Bass, Space Opera is based on the first of the Star Wars movies (Episode IV, A New Hope). Because of its range of musical styles and rousing popular story line, the production has been a big hit for both audiences and performers.
The fledgling North Cambridge Family Opera Company (NCFOC) put on four performances of Space Opera from May 13 to 21, 2000 at the Benjamin Banneker Charter School in Cambridge, Massachusetts to rapt audiences of all ages. One audience member with his 4-year-old in tow explained that he was back for a second show by popular demand. I was concerned that he wouldnt be able to sit through the whole show, explained the Space Opera fan. Instead, he insisted on returning for another performance!
Part of the operas appeal is tin the story line. Space Opera is a lighthearted work that closely parallels the Star Wars story. For those of you who have spent the last three decades in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars is the story of the coming of age of Luke Skywalker, an orphaned teenage boy stuck on a remote planet with his aunt and uncle. Luke succumbs to the salesmanship of a crowd of Jawas and purchases two robots (droids) -- R2-D2 and his beleaguered sidekick, C-3PO. The droids are carrying a message from Princess Leia, leader of the rebellion against the evil Galactic Empire, to Obi-Wan Kenobi, an old Jedi knight, best known for his invocation may the Force be with you.
The droids lead Luke to Obi-Wan, and the four of them travel to Mos Eisley Spaceport, where they meet the mercenary Han Solo and his furry friend Chewbacca, who agree to take them to the planet Alderaan to complete Leias mission. When they arrive at Alderaan, they find the planet destroyed by the Death Star, a giant space station built by the Empire. They are taken aboard the Death Star and discover that Princess Leia is held prisoner there. Han, Luke and Chewbacca rescue Leia while Obi-Wan does battle with the evil dark lord, Darth Vader. Obi-Wan is struck down as the others escape in their ship and head for the secret rebel base on Yavin 4. The Death Star follows, but the rebels are waiting for them, and in the ensuing battle, Luke -- assisted by his new-found friends and his belief in the power of the Force -- destroys the Death Star.
The music is highly accessible to a family audience because of its range of styles and catchy melodies. The opera makes use of a wide range of classical, popular and jazz musical styles. The music is tonal and triadic. Among the most popular numbers are Luke Skywalkers feature aria, It Is My Destiny, a popular ballad with soft rock accompaniment; Han Solos homage to himself, Im the Best, a ragtime piece accompanied by a honky-tonk piano in the cantina; and Jabba the Hutts aria, a blues number accompanied by a swing band in which he exclaims:
Ill even lend you money if you have overspent.
My interest rates might interest you at 99 percent.
With repayment terms so generous, youll thank me on the spot:
You pay me or Ill break your legs, or whatever limbs you got.
These widely varied instrumental accompaniments are possible because they are generated by a computer and synthesizer/sampler, and then burned onto a CD. The computer-generated score enables the cast to have the experience of singing with many different instrumental ensembles, up to and including a full symphony orchestra, complete with sound effects such as blasters and explosions. Of course, the singers must follow the instruments instead of the other way around, but the orchestra is inexpensive and always in tune!
The duration of Space Opera can vary from 95 to 145 minutes, depending on how many optional verses and scenes are included. This years NCFOC production included all the optional parts.
There were 45 cast members in the production, of whom more than half were children (aged 6 to 15). The solo roles were double-cast and distributed among singers of all ages, so everyone who wanted to sing a solo had the opportunity to do so. There are 9 principal and 11 minor solo roles in Space Opera, ranging in difficulty from very simple to very challenging, so it was easy to match solo assignments to ability. Additionally, many parts (such as aliens, droids and the young Luke Skywalker) can be played by adults or children of either gender, increasing the flexibility of casting. There were many siblings and parents among the cast, with thirteen families contributing more than one cast member, and others participating among the crew. It truly was a family opera.
Elaborate sets and lighting were designed and constructed by Dale Senechal, who was once the technical director for the Boston Opera, back when there was a Boston Opera. Costumes were made by cast members and ranged from very simple (brown vests and khakis for rebels, white Tyvek suits for stormtroopers) to ornate (children draped in gloomy robes with glowing yellow electric eyes as Jawas, a four-handed pianist in the cantina scene). The soloist wore wireless clip-on microphones to enhance the sound in the acoustically challenged venue.
The audience response was very positive and enthusiastic. Most of the grownups and many of the kids in the audience sat riveted by the spectacle, despite its length, although some of the younger children had become restless by the second act. The applause at the end was prolonged and relentless.
The North Cambridge Family Opera Company began as an informal group of children and adults who gathered to perform at the local artists open studios weekend in May 1999. Its mission is to provide children and adults the opportunity to experience and enjoy the telling of a story through song, to strengthen families, to build friendships, and to enhance relationships between generations by performing operas which are
David Bass, the founder and musical director of NCFOC, was a prolific composer of pretentious music as a teenager and studied music at Yale, where he quickly became discouraged. He received a BS in chemistry from Yale and a doctorate in chemical engineering from MIT, during which time he arranged dozens of songs for the close harmony acapella groups at these institutions. After a 20 year hiatus from musical composition, Bass wrote the distinctly unpretentious Space Opera for the enjoyment of his three young children, their friends, and their families. He is now working on a second opera and plans to continue writing music for as long as he can avoid taking himself too seriously.
NCFOC can provide a complete vocal score and libretto for those interested in performing Space Opera. CDs and videos of past performances are also available.