Break out the bathtub gin because Mobile Opera’s oncoming Seven Days of Opera has something extra special for music lovers. It’s built around a Jan. 10, 7 p.m. exclusive look at a brand-new work loaded with state ties and Jazz Age mystique.
“I think they have a jewel. I saw the world premiere in November and it truly has legs. This opera can go places,” Mobile Opera General Director Scott Wright said of the upcoming free performance at the Larkins Music Center (257 Dauphin St.).
The work with the great gams is “The Ghosts of Gatsby,” a newly written opera commissioned by Samford University opera program director Dr. Kristin Kenning. In a bold move, she contacted professionals — librettist Joshua McGuire and composer Evan Mack — with a basic instruction: Make an opera with Alabama roots.
The creators turned their eyes to “the first American Flapper,” Zelda Fitzgerald. Together with husband and “The Great Gatsby” author F. Scott Fitzgerald the Montgomery-born writer/painter/dancer/socialite was the toast of the Roaring ‘20s. But too much toasting led to roasting of both body and life as both Scott and Zelda unraveled into tragedy.
Mack and McGuire focused on what made the Fitzgeralds unique as well as their commonalities with more standard marriages. The result is the “bee’s knees.”
They set it in the French Riviera of 1924 with Zelda near the zenith of her life’s arc. Shadows of her mental deterioration creep in as she confronts both her younger and older selves.
Wright was enthused by November’s debut in Birmingham.
“You really need to go and see it to see what happens, because what happens really gets you,” Wright said. “It’s not something you want to know about and read the whole story, then just go to hear the music. It’s great entertainment.”
Days before coming to Mobile, the opera will compete at the National Opera Association’s Chamber Opera competition in Salt Lake City as one of only three national finalists. After Mobile, it goes to the New Works Forum of Opera America in New York City. A Montgomery performance is also scheduled for late January.
Mobile attendees are encouraged to don Jazz Age attire if they wish. The five-person performance is about 40 minutes long. Like every event on the Seven Days schedule, it’s free to the public.
There’s another Gatsby-themed event Monday, Jan. 7, at 2 p.m. when Bridget Peach explores the lives of the Fitzgeralds and Wright talks about the development of the opera. It takes place at Darrel J. Williams Associates (1714 Dauphin St., Suite B), where attendees can dart next door to Chaleur Coffee and grab coffee and pastry before returning for the discussion.
While the auspicious Gatsby debut might be the centerpiece of the week, it’s not necessarily the high point. That comes Saturday, Jan. 12, at 1 p.m. when the Madame Rose Palmai-Tenser Scholarship Competition begins. Named for Mobile Opera’s founder, its cash scholarship prizes and prestigious recognition further the art form’s longevity through generations. Ten finalists will perform before a judges’ panel and onlookers in the Willson Recital Hall of the Larkins Music Center (257 Dauphin St.). The collective audience vote is factored into the selection process and winners are announced at the conclusion.
None of this discounts the rest of the busy week. On Sunday, Jan. 6, 2 p.m. there’s a singalong screening of “The Greatest Showman” at Bernheim Hall in the Ben May Main Branch of the Mobile Public Library. Fans are encouraged to wear costumes of their favorite character or circus performer.
“We look for something familiar and popular, so in the past we’ve had ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘The Sound of Music,’” Wright said. “This was Stacy’s [Driskell] idea and it seemed to fit the bill.”
On Tuesday, Jan. 8, soprano Bryden Fox and pianist Christopher Powell will entertain all oncomers from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Larkins Music Center (257 Dauphin St.). To-go lunches are welcome.
There’s opera trivia all day on Wednesday, Jan. 9, from 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m. on Mobile Opera’s Facebook page. Naturally, prizes are involved.
At 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 11, Mobile Opera is set to go live on its Facebook page for an open chat with staff and surprise guests. The public can send questions to email@example.com beforehand or type them into the live feed.
There’s hope the centerpiece work returns to the Azalea City.
“I talked to the lyricist and the composer both and urged them to expand [Gatsby] to a full-length work,” Wright said. “I would be happy to have it here for Mobile Opera.”
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