UK Opera “Bounces” its way to the box office

Rebecca Watters

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Even the University of Kentucky Opera is sticking true to UK’s basketball tradition.

This fall, the University of Kentucky Opera Theater will be partnering with Ardea Arts, a company based out of New York, to build the production “Bounce: The Basketball Opera.”

“This is an opportunity for the university and Lexington as a whole to be a part of a world premiere event and production,” said Courtney Reed, Director of Education and Community Engagement.

Dr. Everett McCorvey, professor of voice, is facilitating this production, with help from other professionals. The founder of the American Opera Projects, Grethe Barrett Holby, is in charge of the concept and direction, and Tomás Doncker, music producer, will help the dream of tying opera and the fast-paced game of basketball become a reality.

“There cannot be a world premiere basketball opera without involving the basketball mecca of the universe,” McCorvey said.

This process will be unique for the opera theater because it is the first time the music has been written specifically for them. The cast will follow the libretto, a script, and the music will be written based off of their voices.

“We tell students at auditions not to worry about sounding a certain way or which voice group they’re in. We really want to hear them and make this about them,” Holby said.

The idea for the basketball opera came to Holby about thirteen years ago, after watching her son be inspired by writer Walter Dean Myers and his stories about basketball. Holby talked to Myers and his agent several times, before hearing about Charles R. Smith, Jr., the writer for the piece.

Smith’s writing is similar, as it geared toward teenagers and young adults and the problems they face in the world today.

“Finally, Myers’ agent told me he wasn’t my guy, and she told me about a new writer. Smith said yes immediately when I sat down with him, and he was thrilled to do it,” said Holby.

An important goal of this process will be to compose music that is contemporary today, while also including opera elements. Doncker wants to appeal to all audiences, but especially ages 16-18.

“My inspiration is coming from artists like Drake and Kayne West because that’s what students listen to today. It will still be opera, but with a modern twist,” he said.

Aside from contemporary, the music will also incorporate the sounds of basketball, including the rhythm of the balls bouncing, crowds cheering and the squeak of the players’ shoes on the court.

“There’s so much drama in basketball, and it’s such an intense game. I’m trying to capture that intensity musically,” Doncker said. “Basketball is always in motion, and I think that and its intensity are really a metaphor for the young adult life.”

Though the premiere of the intended premiere of the production is a year away, there will be performances of music pieces at the university in November and April. Additionally, the opera will be touring this summer, and Holby hopes it will be picked up by next fall.

“As soon as someone is ready the pick up this production, we’re ready,” Holby said.

The first performances on campus will be Nov. 12 and 13, and they will include music pieces from the opera.