Bienen Ensembles

David T. Little’s Dog Days

Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 7:30pm

Ryan Opera Theater

Joachim Schamberger, director; Alan Pierson, conductor; Victor Huls, graduate assistant conductor; Contemporary Music Ensemble 

Don’t miss the Chicago-area premiere of the opera the New York Times called “a taut, nuanced work that clawed beneath the surface of every situation.” With music by David T. Little and libretto by Royce Vavrek, Dog Days is based on the dystopian short story by Judy Budnitz. As war rages in a not-so-distant future and a starving American family slowly unravels, they discover a man in a dog suit on their property, howling for scraps. The opera raises numerous questions: Is it madness, delusion, or instinct that guides us through trying times? Where is the line between human and animal? At what point must we surrender to our animal instincts merely to survive? This first-time collaboration between the Contemporary Music Ensemble and Northwestern Opera Theater is led by Alan Pierson, who conducted the 2012 Dog Days premiere at the Kasser Theater, at New Jersey’s Montclair State University. Composer David T. Little will coach the cast and ensemble in this challenging, gripping, and affecting work. 

This production contains material that may be upsetting to viewers, including realistic depictions of violence, firearm and drug use, adult situations, and significant amounts of explicit language.

Tickets are $18 for the general public and $8 for students with valid ID.

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 November 21 & 23November 22 & 24
Howard (Father)Andrew PayneJeffrey Goldberg
ElliotAaron WalkerPablo David Laucerica
PatRyan LustgartenDaniel Fleming
LisaMarin TackOlivia Prendergast
MotherKira NearyEmma Rothfield
PrinceMorgan MastrangeloMorgan Mastrangelo
CaptainGabrielle BarkidjijaAryssa Burrs
Soldier 1Daniel FlemingRyan Lustgarten
Soldier 2Pablo David Laucerica

Aaron Walker














Understudies: Elio Bucky (Howard), Kelsey Sandefur (Mother), Megan Fleischmann (Lisa), Ilana Starr (Captain)

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As war raged, America slowly fell into chaos. Roads became blocked except for military use, factories and schools closed one by one, electric power faded by flicker and blackout, and gas lines finally choked off. Neighbors began to vanish, sometimes mysteriously. A family of five—parents, two sons, and a young daughter Lisa—must now do what they can to survive. They live off government rations; the father hunts every day, but returns empty-handed as all the animals are gone.

A homeless man shows up on their doorstep. He wears a self-made dog costume and truly believes he is a dog. Skeptical at first, Lisa befriends him and names him Prince. Lisa's mother supports the friendship, but her father is repulsed. Prince provides an escape for Lisa, and relief from her grief over losing her friend Marjorie, who moved away.

As government rations slow to a stop, conditions continue to worsen. The family turns to eating grass from the yard. But winter soon comes and the grip of starvation takes hold.

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Composer's Note

I believe that it is an artist's duty to ask questions: in particular, questions that can be hard to hear, and difficult or even impossible to answer. Dog Days pursues exactly that goal, exploring the nature of choice and consequences, the unspoken truth of what we become upon the dissolution of civilization, and what it truly means to be human. Based on a short story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, Dog Days is told predominantly from the perspective of Lisa, a 13-year-old girl whose world slowly falls apart. We watch as her family slowly starves: as her mother gives up on life, her father struggles to fulfill the myth of the provider, and her brothers attempt to escape their boredom through an assortment of increasingly antisocial activities. When we meet Prince—a man in a homemade dog costume, begging for food, and truly seeming to believe he is a dog—his presence introduces unsettling questions about the nature of humanity. It has been said that a society can be judged by the way it treats its animals. It also stands to reason that you can tell a lot about a person by how long they can remain truly human during the most traumatic of times. Dog Days explores the ultimate struggle of humanity, stuck between the dispassionate gaze of nature and the often violent artifices of society.

—David T. Little

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Director's Note

Our long-held traditions, daily rituals, and codified laws provide the structure for our society and framework of our culture. They ground us and offer a sense of security. But how resilient is this structure, and for how long can it hold under the most dire of circumstances? Can we maintain our humanity, or will the fabric of civilization rip to reveal it has been an illusion? The lens of survival shows us the true nature of sacrifice—whether ritual, offering, resignation, or incarnation. And asks if the human animal instinct can be transcended.

—Joachim Schamberger

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Shirley Welsh Ryan Opera Theater


Bienen School of Music
70 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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Located in the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts, this theater is a versatile space for intimate opera performances and recitals. Featuring double-height ceilings and expansive windows showcasing views of Lake Michigan, the room seats 163.