If you’ve ever felt like screaming this line when you enter the war zone of presents, punch and perfunctory games known as a baby shower, then you’re not alone. Get ready to enter into the cheer and chaos the celebration can be April 20, when the chamber opera “Baby Shower” is performed at Jacksonville State University.
The production features an all-female cast with a classic roundup of characters: the expectant, unwed mother and her sister, a Bible-thumping aunt, sorority sister and the great-grandmother who has left the nursing home for the day just to rock the cradle. Unlike a traditional opera, “Baby Shower” utilizes an ensemble of performers instead of a full orchestra.
“It’s just like it would be if you were going to your cousin’s baby shower ... you’re there and you’re setting up and you’re frustrated — it’s a dysfunctional baby shower,” said director Jean Ellison, a graduate student of music at JSU. “You’re not in the audience — you are at the baby shower.”
So it may seem slightly surprising that the entire plot and music were created by men.
The idea came to librettist Jason Charnesky, after attending the 2007 National Opera Association conference where he was presented with a challenge, of sorts, to create operas with all-female casts.
“I have always known how women outnumber men in American college opera programs,” Charnesky said. “What a director at a college level in America is faced with is lots of women singers and very few male singers and trying to find pieces that will fit what they’ve got.”
Ellison agrees. “It’s important to feature women. There’s not enough operas that do that,” she said. “There’s that one solo and that one big soprano operatic role, and then there’s all roles for males. There’s often times 10 roles for men and three for women, and that’s where the catfight comes in.”
But that’s not the case with “Baby Shower.”
After the conference in New Orleans, Charnesky, who teaches English at Penn State, was “casting about, trying to think of ‘What are plausible situations that only involve women and would be interesting and fun and contemporary?’” Around the same time he learned that his niece was expecting and would subsequently be having a baby shower — and thus an idea was born.
He began sourcing ideas about “the disasters, the games, the fun, the politics” from his female friends and relatives, and went forward to create the plot, with the help of Bruce Trinkley, a fellow composer and professor emeritus of music at Penn State, whom Charnesky has worked with for 20 years. Their first work was a cantata based around the painting “Santa Rosalia” by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, which is owned by Penn State.
“Once we realized that we actually work well together and that our pieces are both humorous and serious ... we decided to keep working at it,” said Charnesky.
In 2008 the duo presented the opera “York, The Voice of Freedom,” which told the story of the Lewis and Clark exhibition from the point of view of William Clark’s slave, who was the only black member of the exhibition.
But “Baby Shower” takes a lighter tone.
“It’s a show with the same characters — there’s not a whole lot of on- and off-stage; there’s not a whole lot of costume changes,” Ellison says. “This is focused on these 10 women, and they are the show.”
Those that can’t wait to see the rubber ducky cake hit the fan will have the opportunity to preview the show April 19 at Classic On Noble during a fundraiser for the Jacksonville Opera Theatre. Attendees will get a chance to see the characters in costume perform a few selections from “Baby Shower” as well as the upcoming production of “The Mikado,” and have dinner with the cast.
Ellison is hopeful that “Baby Shower” will be well-received. “We may say, ‘Well this is a dysfunctional baby shower,’ but for some people this is the new normal,” she said. “It has so much depth for just a chamber opera. We just want to be able to communicate the text well enough for everyone to enjoy.”
What: JSU Opera Theater fundraiser and sneak preview of “Baby Shower” and “The Mikado”
When: April 19, 6:30 p.m. at Classic On Noble, Anniston
Information: Visit online at www.jacksonvilleopera.org.
What: Chamber opera created by Jason Charnesky and Bruce Trinkley
When: April 20 and 21, 7:30 p.m. at Mason Hall Performance Center, third floor
Information: 1-800-838-3006 or www.jacksonvilleopera.org