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THE VERY LAST GREEN THING, AN OPERA FOR KIDS—AND FOR OUR TIMES

CARY JOHN FRANKLIN’S opera The Very Last Green Thing has a cast of kids. This is most appropriate: Operas typically concern the past, something that kids (and we) can only imagine. By contrast, The Very Last Green Thing is about the future that kids will inherit. It has an environmental theme that is both encouraging and frightening.

The Opera’s History. Cary John Franklin composed The Very Last Green Thing in 1992 on commission from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Its libretto was written by Michael Patrick Albano, whose libretti include another children’s opera: The Thunder of Horses, based on a Blackfoot legend and also commissioned by Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

The Very Last Green Thing was first performed in St. Louis in 1992. The Michigan Opera Theatre Children’s Chorus production is scheduled for April 25, 2020, as part of an Earth Day Celebration. The Michigan Science Center will have a 15-minute precurtain presentation as well.

This and the following images are from Michigan Opera Theatre.

Plot Synopsis. In a prologue, kids from 1992 prepare a time capsule. The opera takes place in the year 2413, with highly regimented kids taught by an android. Their lives are changed during a rare field trip outdoors in which the time capsule is discovered.

The 2413 kids are baffled by its contents, and time-traveling 1992 kids share examples of happy-dancing tennis shoes, a guitar, an umbrella, and other late-20th-century delights.

The last thing in the capsule is a withered green plant. The 2413 kids are intrigued. The android insists the plant be ignored, but Amy, an inquisitive kid, secretly takes it home. The next day, the android reprimands Amy, but the kids barrage the android with questions.

The opera ends with children of 1992 and 2413 united in watering the plant and bringing it back to life. The android nods in understanding, as the kids sing about the importance of loving and nurturing all things living.

There’s a video of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s The Very Last Green Thing. It’s a sweet, gentle production of 37 minutes.

MOT Educates Us All. A Teacher’s Resource Guide was produced in preparation of the Michigan Opera Theatre Children’s Chorus The Very Last Green Thing.

As a Teacher’s Resource Book, it contains plenty of lesson plans appropriate to kids of all levels. The opera’s environmental theme is described in detail. There’s also a Backstage Activity Book that links general opera lore with the logic of theater conventions, a word search and other puzzles, a science project about balance, and other well-conceived projects for kids.

Not just for teachers and their students, this 50-page guide enriched my own enjoyment of opera. There’s a brief history of the art form, singing voices, and operatic careers.

I’m reminded of years ago when I attended a Berlin Staatsoper production of Norma. The opera house offered inexpensively priced hard-cover guides, with rather more details on the opera, its history, and current production than contained in our usual theater programs.

The MOT Teachers’ Guide is also a keeper, for more than teachers.

Other Personal Recollections. MOT’s founding General Director was David DiChiera, who died in 2018 at age 83. We in Orange County, California, also knew him: DiChiera served as General Director of our Opera Pacific from its founding in 1986 to 1996.

David DiChiera, 1935–2018, American composer, founding General Director of Michigan Opera Theatre. Image from MOT.

Back when my travels often took me to Detroit, I had the pleasure of attending MOT productions in its historic Fisher Theatre home. In “Many Flutes Are Magical,” I shared a recollection of sitting near two young ladies who got caught up in Mozart’s magic: They remained even after obligatory high-school attendance was taken.

Maybe this time around, the pair would have roles in MOT’s The Very Last Green Thing. Come to think of it, they would be too old for the cast now. I’m confident, though, they’d be in the audience. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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