All right, stay with me, because I’m going to get out there a ways with some free association. In thinking about creating a distinctly American style of opera, and in thinking about which stories American composers might make operas out of, I’ve imagined a Field of Dreams opera. It’s a very American story, and there are some things about it that might translate will into opera: not too many characters, a male chorus of early 1900’s ballplayers, you don’t need too many sets (most of it could be staged on a baseball field/farmhouse set), a child soprano, and a good basso role in James Earl Jones’ character. The really exciting thing, though, is that we could make a whole genre out of it. You could make endless variations on Field of Dreams — and let me explain.
Here’s the basic story: a magical voice tells an Iowa farmer and ex-hippie liberal to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield. The ghosts of old-time ballplayers magically appear to play there. Then the magical voice tells the farmer to go to Boston to meet a great ’60s liberal writer. The voice tells them both to go to Minnesota, where they go back in time to meet a former baseball player who’s acted by Burt Lancaster. They all go back to Iowa, and the farmer’s story is resolved when he plays baseball with the ghost of his father.
So we could substitute any number of different elements into those basic categories. You can make a mad-lib out of it: name a U.S. state, a job, a devotee of a political ideology, an athletic venue, the place where the job is worked, the word you use for players of the sport played in the venue, a far away city, a great writer or theorist of the political ideology, a second U.S. state, and an old-time actor.
Just one permutation would be: a magical voice tells an Oregon logger and monarchist to build a luge track in the mountains where his logging company is. He cuts down trees and builds the luge track, and ghosts of former Olympic lugers appear to luge there. Then the magical voice tells the logger to go to New Orleans to meet the exiled King of Spain, who’s in disguise. The voice tells them both to go to West Virginia, where they travel back in time to meet a former luger who’s played by Woody Allen. They all go back to Oregon and logger’s story is resolved when he runs the luge track with the ghost of his father.
And you make an opera out of it. Let’s hear some more variations on the idea here in the comments section. Have a good weekend everybody!