There aren't that many operas that can count classical music and heavy-metal rock among the sources of inspiration. But then "Dog Days" is about as far from conventional as contemporary opera gets — a post-apocalyptic scenario melded into the form of musical theater, with a good dose of reverse canine anthropomorphism.
In the near future, an unspecified catastrophe has brought widespread starvation and social collapse. A teenage girl survives with her immediate family by scrounging for food until one day a dog arrives on the premises — or is it a man dressed up as a dog? Does it matter given the piece's loose connection with literal reality?
The avant-garde universe of "Dog Days," adapted from a short story by Judy Budnitz, is provocative and sometimes disturbing. The piece was first performed in 2012 and is making its local premiere this week in a production from Los Angeles Opera at REDCAT.
Composer David T. Little said that he drew extensively on his eclectic artistic background when writing the piece.
"I grew up performing musical theater, but I was also into metal bands like Megadeth," he said in a recent interview. "I'm pretty much into everything from Public Enemy to Hank Williams. It's all kind of mixed up in my musical DNA."
The idea for "Dog Days," which features a libretto by Royce Vavrek, originated with a commission from Carnegie Hall and was later fleshed out into its current form with Beth Morrison Projects, the Brooklyn-based new-music initiative. The world premiere took place at Montclair Peak Performances in New Jersey.
The cast includes Lauren Worsham, who was nominated last year for a Tony Award for "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," and performance artist John Kelly as the creature.
"Dog Days" is the latest effort from L.A. Opera to broaden its audiences beyond the traditional grand opera crowd and to attract younger viewers.
Christopher Koelsch, the company's president and chief executive, said he cold-called Beth Morrison two years ago about the possibility of a collaboration. He said it was part of the company's desire to engage with the vanguard of young composers.
"The scale, subject matters and sonic worlds of these works feels so immediate, their pleasures so visceral, that I felt they would be ideal for our audiences," he said via email.
Little is working on a new opera about the last night in the life of John F. Kennedy that is expected to premiere next year at Fort Worth Opera. "The music is finished. I'm working on the orchestrations now," Little said.
The highly anticipated piece, which has been in the works for a few years, depicts the 35th president and first lady in the city of Fort Worth the day before he is assassinated in Dallas.
"Their last night in Fort Worth has always been overshadowed by what happened in Dallas," the composer said. "I did research and tried to find a way of telling his last night. It's not necessarily a linear story. It approaches JFK and Jackie as human beings rather than the myth."