After severe weather cancelled the opening on Friday night, David T. Little’s highly anticipated Dog Days finally had its regional premiere in Fort Worth on Sunday afternoon. With video projections, on-stage cameras, an electric guitar and helicopter sound effects, Dog Days was pretty much a two-hour work of tech-savvy and modernist performance art. Little combines influences of rock, opera, musical theater and modern classical music for a wholly twenty-first century sound. In an impromptu conversation with the composer, librettist, producer and director on Friday night, Little discussed his journey to find his voice within multiple spheres of musical influence; if Dog Days is evidence, it seems he has come to a good place on this journey as the work presents a clear and unique musical voice.
The story’s tracing of a post-apocalyptic family’s descent into animalistic behavior echoing the dog-man they initially judge is enough of a pull throughout the work in and of itself, but the storylines and drama of the family’s journey through the seasons coupled with their attempts to cope with the starvation that expedites their decline are what make the story particularly gut-wrenching. The father’s demand that the boys wear shirts at the dinner table during the hot summer in order to keep a sense of decency is in stark contrast to their final meal while they are freezing in the winter. But the moment that is maybe the most moving is Lauren Worsham’s (Lisa) Mirror, Mirror aria during the third scene in the second act. Not only is Royce Vavrek’s repeated “Hello there, beautiful” phrase incredibly moving in its own right, the added theater of the Lisa character carrying the mirror with her while a camera captures and projects to the audience exactly what she is seeing in the mirror, including Worsham’s phenomenal acting, is enough to move even the coldest of hearts. The aria focuses on Lisa’s view that her starvation has made her look like a model in the magazine and given her the physical features she always dreamed about.
James Bobick’s strong, booming voice is ideal for the father character, Howard, and Marnie Breckenridge as the mother is wholly compelling as both a singer and actress. But the star of the show is undeniably Lauren Worsham. Worsham herself embodies David Little’s marriage of opera and rock as she has mostly a theater and rock background, but certainly has the ability to come across in an operatic manner in Dog Days. Her acting during the aforementioned Mirror, Mirror aria was by the far the most touching moment in the emotion-laden production.
With pop-culture seemingly unable to get enough of dystopia in the movie theater these days, David T. Little and Royce Vavrek have successfully brought the genre into the world opera. If there were a canon of works for a modern audience, Dog Days would most certainly be a must-include.