Return to SWEET POTATO KICKS THE SUN Main Page

SWEET POTATO KICKS THE SUN

An Opera For All Ages
(For Small Ensemble and Special Guest Artist)

Dramatis Personae and Instrumentation
 

SWEET POTATO KICKS THE SUN

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

 

SPECIAL GUEST ARTIST, a renowned person performing under their real-life name

ROOFTOP GARDEN FAMILY*

SWEET POTATO (vocalist), a young trickster and grandchild
89 (vocalist), a vigilant hummingbird and grandchild, best friend to SWEET POTATO
GRANDFATHER BEEKEEPER (vocalist), caretaker of all creatures and grandchildren in the rooftop garden, including HONEYBEES and PIGEONS
GRANDMOTHER SEED-KEEPER (vocalist), caretaker of all grandchildren and vegetation in the garden as well as in her secret glass jar factory cellar
SQUIRREL (actor), a grandchild in charge of the Cosmic Cord, a sacred string the family uses to send their prayers beyond the sky
PIGEON (actor), a grandchild and message-carrier who searches for SWEET POTATO
HONEYBEE (actor), a grandchild and dreamed honeybee who reveals important information to SWEET POTATO

ROOFTOP GARDEN FAMILY - Optional
BABY HONEYBEES (youth chorus), grandchildren whose hive is tended by GRANDFATHER BEEKEEPER
BABY HONEYBEE #1 (soloist drawn from youth chorus), grandchild
BABY HONEYBEE #2 (soloist drawn from youth chorus), grandchild
YOUNG PIGEONS (youth chorus), grandchildren
YOUNG PIGEONS #1 (soloist drawn from youth chorus), grandchild
YOUNG PIGEONS #2 (soloist drawn from youth chorus), grandchild

*Costuming conveys that all rooftop family members belong to a readily recognized group. This is especially important for action of Arc 4.

CITY-DWELLERS
FRIENDLY DOG (actor), an amiable dog whose tail taps out beautiful beats
BUSY WOODPECKER (actor), a hard-working woodpecker whose bill hammers out arresting rhythms
SPINNING SPIDER (actor), an enchanting spider whose eight legs weave mysterious string music
CITY-DWELLER #1 (vocalist, may double GRANDMOTHER and/or GRANDFATHER), a candy-lover who hangs out in City Park Playground
CITY-DWELLER #2 (actor), friend to CITY-DWELLER #1
WOODPECKERS (youth chorus), woodpeckers living near a city telephone pole

SETTING
A theater stage; a rooftop garden; streets; a public park 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.

VOCAL TYPES – all lead singers require acting and movement skills

SWEET POTATO – light lyric soprano, somewhat soubrette and somewhat coloratura.

89 – light lyric character baritone, somewhat buffo.

GRANDMOTHER, GRANDFATHER, and CITY-DWELLER #1 – lyric mezzo-soprano, somewhat dramatic, somewhat light.

SQUIRREL, PIGEON, FRIENDLY DOG, WOODPECKER, SPINNING SPIDER, HONEYBEE, CITY-DWELLER #2 – actor able to move well, make animal sounds, and must be able to read musical notation.

GENDER NOTE
Apart from GRANDMOTHER and GRANDFATHER, all roles are unmarked by gender.

SPECIAL GUEST ARTIST NOTE
The libretto offers a complete skeleton text for the role of GUEST ARTIST. Depending on the nature of the special guest artist’s work and stage experience, text may in places be cut, altered, or improvised without significantly changing the opera’s story, structure, or duration. In performances, each guest artist is referred to by their real name. The libretto employs the name of Nicole Paris, who is creating the role of GUEST ARTIST for SANTA FE OPERA.

PERSONNEL NOTES
If needed, the opera can be given by three principal vocalists as detailed above. This work however ideally utilizes four principal vocalists in the following roles: SWEET POTATO, 89, GRANDFATHER, and GRANDMOTHER. Either way, additional required personnel include one actor and a special guest artist. The GUEST ARTIST may be a vocalist (beatboxer, country singer, jazz singer, rapper, scat singer, yodeler, etc.), or any other performer or presenter not traditionally associated with opera (artist, athlete, inventor, scientist, comedian, puppeteer, or any who may demonstrate some aspect of their work to a live audience).

INSTRUMENTATION
ON-STAGE ENSEMBLE

All artists in the ensemble – vocalists, musicians, actor – need to be able to hear and see one another, in order to achieve effects elucidated in the libretto and score. They must be able to react to one another as if they were in a tightknit jazz ensemble: with spontaneity, instinct, and improvisational skills. While the work requires a conductor, many passages are deliberately marked as “un-conducted.” These passages, along with the above-mentioned special characteristics of the ensemble, help to achieve the desired result: a piece that comes to life in a unique way with each performance, an opera that is not stiff or stylized but is instead effervescent, vivacious, alive from the inside out.

If for any reason the musicians must be positioned at any significant distance from other members of the ensemble (for example, in an orchestra pit), then video monitors are mandatory and must be set up so that all ensemble members remain in fluid visual contact with one another. In the event of the musicians not being on stage as specified, the ‘sound image’ (dynamics, balance, spatial diffusion, placement of speakers if amplification is used, ability for vocalists to hear their pitch cues, and so forth) will require comprehensive technical and artistic planning to assure a successful outcome for each performance. One does not want to create any situation where “the fix” is that everyone in the pit plays everything at a FF dynamic.

INSTRUMENTATION OF ON-STAGE ENSEMBLE

1 flute doubling piccolo and alto flute in G (and bird call instruments)
1 clarinet in Bb doubling bass clarinet in Bb (and bird call instruments)
1 violin (and bird call instruments)
1 cello (and bird call instruments)
1 piano (and bird call instruments); (piano lid must be removed)
1 percussion (please see score for exact instrumentation); (and bird call instruments)

SGA doubles on harmonica

89 doubles on slide whistle (approximately 13 inches long and 3/4 inch wide, except at the handle where it is about 2 inches wide.) This might require special, long, thin pocket in 89’s costume. The handle could (perhaps should) protrude from the pocket, making it easy to grab the handle’s loop and pull whistle out of pocket at a moment’s notice.

GRANDMOTHER doubles on Sweet Potato Ocarina (Transverse and in the key of C Major.) This is the most familiar kind of ocarina. It has a rounded shape and is held with two hands horizontally. The two most common transverse Sweet Potato ocarinas are 10-hole and 12-hole.

GRANDFATHER plays 6 Thai gongs

VOCALIZATIONS BY ENSEMBLE MUSICIANS: All brief vocal interjections (for example Laughter in Arc 6) are optional but desired when feasible.

DURATION
Circa 83-87 minutes

 

SOUND PALETTE
– For Cast Members –

Sweet Potato Kicks The Sun calls for cast members to create or improvise sounds associated with their characters. For example, Busy Woodpecker delivers a variety of pecking sounds. In the libretto, these may be given in abbreviated form such as “Ta ta tatatatata cha.” But in practice, such vocalizations often continue for many bars, and each interpreter may develop their own sounds so long as ultimate syllables remain clear for cueing purposes. As the piece unfolds, characters at times mimic one another’s sounds so that, by the end, colors comprising the opera’s initial sound palette have evolved to form a fresh, augmented palette of more complex and intermixed colors and effects. In particular, sounds associated with the Guest Artist are gradually adopted by other characters, just as their distinctive sounds are adopted by the Guest Artist. Below are suggested sounds that artists may use to develop expressions of their characters. Note that some characters also play air-blown instruments, which may extend the colors and effects of vocalizations. Grandmother is unique in that her character’s non-semantic expressions are conveyed exclusively via her instrument, the ocarina.

GUEST ARTIST (harmonica)
Depends on the unique sound-world contributed by the artist. For the world premiere featuring Nicole Paris, the most important sounds are associated with beatboxing.

SWEET POTATO
Brrrrr (with rolling r); ha! HAHA! Heehee, pHa!, yaHa! (and other sounds of impish or exhultant laughter, giggling, explosive glee); woo! eek!; me me me me me (and other sounds tied to stereotypes of the ‘opera diva’).

89 (slide whistle)
No! Oh! Ah! Ho! Óh la la! Wha..! Uh-oh, oops, Tsss, tsk (sounds of exasperation, frustration, disappointment, and bewilderment with efforts to keep SWEET POTATO in line).

GRANDFATHER and BABY HONEYBEES
Bzzzz, hzzzzz, Tszzzzzz, pBzzzzz-atz, zTzzz-ahz (sounds of buzzing bees, at times gentle and at times more vigorous and animated).

PIGEON and YOUNG PIGEONS
Croooh, grahooh, hgoorah, oooo, crooghah, oohrrah (sounds of cooing pigeons, at times gentle and at times more vigorous and animated).

SQUIRREL
Hek, hik, kkk, keh, T T T T, kuuuuk, kak, kik, dek, dTik (sounds of varied energies and durations capturing a squirrel chirping or ‘barking’ with alarm depending on circumstances).

BUSY WOODPECKER and WOODPECKERS
Ta, ta, tatatatak, tik tik Tik, tak, tatatatata Tak, Kee Ka Cha, Chh Chh Tuk (sounds of woodpecking at varied speeds, at times perhaps with very brief surprising pause or single peck between longer sequences); brrrrrr, TRRrrrr, KRrrrrrrr (‘drilling’ sounds as when pecking action is so fast that it creates in effect un uninterrupted blur of hard pecks).

SECTIONS

Sweet Potato Kicks The Sun!
Famous Guest Artist
ARC 1 - Departure
Call To Prayer
Cosmic Cord
The Grandmother Song
Uh Oh Ta-To!
Take A Kodak
Pigeon

ARC 2 - Ascent
Friendly Dog
Busy Woodpecker
Spinning Spider

ARC 3 - Panorama
Call To The Honeybees
Coded Message
To The West!

ARC 4 – Contest
Dark Zone
Hungry Potato
The Magic Whistle Battle
Dream Team

ARC 5 - Descent
Down To The Cellar
The Shadow Dance

ARC 6 - Return
Pigeon’s Message
The Sun Chant
Celebration!
The Laughing Song

The End!