‘Snow’ debuts rock opera, new theater company in NashuaBy TERESA SANTOSKI Staff Writer
Thursday, July 5, 2012
If you asked an opera composer where he’d most like to debut his work, his answer would likely be the Metropolitan Opera in New York City or another operatic venue of international renown.
For the world premiere of “Snow: The Modern Opera,” librettist and director Dylan Gamblin and musical director Jeff Prescott had a theater that’s more locally famous in mind.
“I really like the Janice B. Streeter Theater,” Gamblin said, describing how the intimacy of the venue compliments the themes of the opera. “You’re really able to connect with everyone on stage. We definitely want the audience to be as engaged as they can be with the actors.”
“Snow: The Modern Opera” will be performed by the Nashua-based Genesys Theater Company at 8 p.m. Friday, July 6 and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, July 7 at the Janice B. Streeter Theater, 14 Court St. in Nashua.
The opera is based on the concept album “Snow” by progressive rock band Spock’s Beard. The title character is an albino with a special gift.
“He’s able to emotionally heal people simply by touching them,” Gamblin said.
When the naive 17-year-old Snow arrives in New York City, he puts this gift to use healing and helping the addicts and prostitutes who make up the city’s rejects.
As Snow’s fame grows, so does his ego, which is represented on stage by another actor.
“The more he helps people, the larger the ego becomes and starts to manifest himself in Snow, and starts to manipulate him a bit,” Gamblin said.
The opera reaches its climax with a battle between the two.
“Hopefully, we’ll be getting audiences at the edge of the seat towards the end,” Gamblin said. “It promises to be something to make an audience think.”
Gamblin was inspired to adapt “Snow” into an opera three years ago after listening to album for the first time in a while. To him, it sounded like something that should be made into a stage performance.
“The way they orchestrated the album is pretty great,” he said. “It’s fantastic for staging, because there’s all this chaos in the music, and then it releases into this beautiful, open feeling.”
“Why hasn’t that happened yet?” Gamblin remembered thinking about the possibility of a stage adaptation. “I’ll make that happen.”
The project was undertaken with the approval of Neil Morse, the former vocalist for Spock’s Beard who also wrote the album.
“He gave his blessing and everything, and he’s very excited about this project,” Gamblin said. “He said that this was something he had actually been wanting to do for a while, and he was like, ‘Absolutely.’”
Gamblin began the adaptation process by working on the libretto.
“I made the decision early on to not add dialogue,” he said. “The music is so powerful as it is, I thought that to add dialogue, it would stray off course.”
Desiring to structure the piece as a traditional opera, just with a different style of music, Gamblin instead focused on expanding the plot and characters that are outlined in the album.
“Fleshing out the story and having it make sense on stage has been the brunt of our journey,” he said.
Musical director Jeff Prescott joined the project two years ago, transcribing the music from the album into sheet music and arranging it for a five-piece band and a cast of 15 singers.
“His job, I don’t envy at all,” Gamblin said. “He’s been a real trouper.”
Though both men now have heard the music of “Snow” numerous times, they remain enthusiastic about the project.
“We’re still not sick of it,” Gamblin said of the songs. “And that says something, I think. We’ve been beating ourselves over the head with this music, and it’s still good.”
Adapting and staging the opera has been a learning process for everyone involved, particularly when it came to accurately portraying the physical aspects of the production’s albino protagonist.
“We kind of lucked out in that our Snow, JM Breen, he’s already rather pale,” Gamblin said. “So it wasn’t a very long road to go.”
Breen’s skin will be further lightened with makeup and he agreed to dye his hair for the role. His eyes didn’t pose the challenge Gamblin initially anticipated.
“Through this process, we found the whole red eye thing totally amiss. That’s only in extreme cases of albinism,” Gamblin said. “Most albinos have blue or green eyes.”
The authenticity of Snow’s appearance will be countered by imaginative costuming, sets and special effects.
Gamblin described the costumes as incorporating a steampunk/cybergoth aesthetic with a touch of modern-day influence. The set will incorporate two levels of height and the stage will be painted “to make it all weird and stuff.”
“It’s set in New York, but this isn’t the New York that we know,” he said. “It’s a much darker representation of New York City throughout the show.”
Since the story is rather abstract, Gamblin explained, projections will be used to add a sense of reality to the production.
“We have a few special effects up our sleeves,” he said, noting that at least one of the effects has never been done at the Janice B. Streeter Theater. “It should be pretty cool.”
“Snow: The Modern Opera” has been a ground-breaking undertaking. Not only is this the opera’s world premiere, it’s the first time that the music from the album will be played in its entirety in front of an audience.
Since Neil Morse left Spock’s Beard immediately following the release of “Snow,” Gamblin explained, the album has never had a complete live performance.
It’s also the first production for the Genesys Theater Company, which is dedicated to exposing audiences to new and edgy pieces of theater.
“Their mission statement is exactly what ‘Snow’ is all about,” Gamblin said.
Though the opera is new, Gamblin hopes audiences will be able to connect with the themes of the production, which are as old as mankind itself.
“What I want people to be left with is that idea of ‘I do that sometimes,’” he said, “and being able to connect with Snow, and also with the ego, recognizing times where you’ve let your personal ego take control of you.”
Teresa Santoski can be reached at 594-6466 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow Santoski on Twitter (@Telegraph_TS).
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