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SWEET POTATO KICKS THE SUN

An Opera For All Ages
(American Music Theater for Small Ensemble and Special Guest Artist)

Commissioned by a consortium of opera companies led by Santa Fe Opera in association with San Francisco Opera that includes: Lyric Opera Of Kansas City, Minnesota Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Sarasota Opera, and Seattle Opera

The Melville Hankins Family Foundation and The Andrew Mellon Foundation made this project possible with generous funding.

Workshop Reading: September 2018 in Chicago.
First performance in 2019 to be given by Santa Fe Opera.

Libretto by Leslie Dunton-Downer

Duration: ca. 65 minutes

Story Summary
Nicole Paris

A famous beatboxer begins a dazzling solo show and is alarmed to discover that an opera is about to start on the same stage. Before the mix-up can be sorted out, the opera is under way. Beatboxer at first only attends and reacts to the opera, but eventually cannot resist stepping ‘across the line’ to participate in the action. The opera’s story: An urban rooftop garden family faces a crisis when one of its members, the adorable and beloved yet trickster-like Sweet Potato, kicks the sun out of the galaxy. The family hopes its prayers will call the sun back. But when Sweet Potato also cuts the Cosmic Cord, the sacred string that conveys their prayers beyond the sky, all seems hopeless. Misery only grows when Grandmother Seed-Keeper leaves for her secret cellar and explains why she may never return. All are furious at Sweet Potato for causing so much trouble. Grandfather Beekeeper sends Sweet Potato away to gain wisdom. Sweet Potato’s friend and fellow rooftop garden family member, the caring and at times hyper- vigilant 88, joins for the journey. In the end, their individual strengths and teamwork, and the unexpected intervention of Beatboxer, result in the return of Grandmother and the sun to the garden. Sweet Potato, changed by the journey, is welcomed home as a hero, and Beatboxer is invited to join the family. All ends happily with a joyous rooftop celebration.

In the opera, Nicole Paris beatboxes and sings. The other vocalists sing and, from time to time, develop a wide variety of vocalizations that are akin to beatboxing. As such, the opera organically unfolds a sound world where different musical traditions crisscross and are deeply integrated.

Subjects Addressed in the Opera

Respect for and love of nature; humans, flora, and fauna as interlinked; appreciating boundaries between self and others; challenges and joys of friendship and teamwork; honoring individual ways of being and learning; embracing community and communal values; the wisdom of the older generations; empathy and unconditional love; personal transformation and insight; nature in urban settings; opera embracing diverse musical traditions, artists, and audience members.

Setting

An opera house or any theater stage; a rooftop garden; streets; a mountaintop; a playground; and a glass jar factory cellar in a city where all creatures (humans, animals, birds, insects) live as equals and are able to speak and sing.

Note

In the opera’s world, some characters are human, such as Sweet Potato, and some are not, such as 88, a hummingbird. All characters treat one another as equal creatures.

 

"Composing for voice is a huge passion and as a result the largest part of my catalogue is music for voice(s). The human voice — the most subtle, complex, and fragile yet forceful, flexible, seductive, and persuasive carrier of musical ideas and meanings — has always been an inspiration for and influence upon my entire musical thinking. I sing as I compose. When musicians ask me a question, I sing the answer." — Augusta Read Thomas


Nicole Paris and Augusta Read Thomas in Santa Fe in Summer 2017. Photo by T.A. Paris-Cage
ABOUT THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Nicole Paris is a world-class talent. I am inspired by her beatboxing and, for the past year, through a series of detailed workshops, we have been collaborating on an opera that I am composing in which Nicole plays the lead role. Our time together is energized and creative. We laugh a great deal when working together.  Because we trust each other, we are able to explore sound together and work hard to find just the right atmosphere for each scene in the opera.

In the opera, Nicole beatboxes and sings. The other vocalists sing and, from time to time, develop a wide variety of vocalizations akin to beatboxing. As such, the opera organically unfolds a sound world where different musical traditions crisscross and are deeply integrated.

I see opera as embracing diverse musical traditions, artists, and audience members.

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"Operatic Beatz, Embrace The Newness. After meeting Augusta Read Thomas, I knew we would awaken the Universe with new music." — Nicole Paris

Dramatis Personae and Instrumentation

Personnel Note: This work ideally utilizes 4 principal vocalists plus special guest vocalist (*beatboxer, jazz singer, scat singer, or other vocalist not traditionally associated with opera who also has a beautiful singing voice). The piece can be given by 3 vocalists plus *special guest vocalist when Grandfather and Grandmother are sung by the same artist. All bit parts and minor roles may, if absolutely required, be covered by one performer.

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LIBRETTIST AND ARTISTS (for the September 2018 workshop)

Map of Form

Click image to enlarge

Map of EOS MAP OF FORM as drawn by the composer
 

At Santa Fe Opera with Brandon Neal, Andrea Fellows Walters and Ruth Nott

To obtain examination or performance material for this
Augusta Read Thomas work, please contact Nimbus Music Publishing.