Sarasota Opera Commissions Rachel J. Peters for Next Youth Opera World Premiere

After a nationwide search, Sarasota Opera is proud to announce that composer/librettist Rachel J. Peters has been commissioned to compose Sarasota Youth Opera's next world premiere. Ms. Peter's opera, Rootabaga Country, which is being written now and will have its premiere in November 2017, was selected over 12 other submissions. This will be the sixth opera commissioned by the Sarasota Youth Opera program.

"The Sarasota Youth Opera program has been a leading force in creating works of substantial musical value specifically designed for young voices," says Maestro Victor DeRenzi. "Ms. Peter's opera Rootabaga Country met the standard we look for in new works, and will be a welcome addition to the Youth Opera repertoire."

"With this work, I encourage operagoers to celebrate that 'the world's a ball of wackiness' whilst promoting a sincere message of tolerance and inclusiveness in a cultural climate where the simple act of growing up is more confusing than ever before," says Ms. Peters of her work. "Rootabaga Country will premiere in service to Sarasota Opera's mission of building esteem in tandem with superior musicianship in the next generation of performers and audiences."

Sarasota Opera announced the Request for Submission in March 2015. To be considered, composers were asked to submit at minimum 30% of a new work that had yet to receive a performance. Sarasota Opera received 13 submissions from composers around the country and after several months of consideration, Ms. Peters' work stood out among them. The requirements for submission included the opera having a libretto in English and be approximately 60 minutes in length. In addition, the work needed to include 10 - 15 solo youth roles, be mostly sung with minimal spoken dialogue, and have a chamber orchestra for up to 13 instruments.

The winning work is an adaptation of selections from Carl Sandburg's 1922 book Rootabaga Stories which is a collection of whimsical short stories created out of Sandburg's desire to invent "American fairy tales" to match American childhood. In her opera, Ms. Peters introduces the audience to three characters; Gimme the Ax and his two children, Please Gimme and Ax Me No Questions, who have sold their possessions as they prepare to travel to Rootabaga Country, a land in the sky. Alelia, the children's mother who loved to visit Rootabaga Country as a young girl, had previously disappeared when they were small so this journey is the family's way of connecting with her again. Once they arrive, they meet Potato Face Blind Man who stations himself at every town's post office and leads the family on adventures meeting unique characters along the way. Each journey provides the children with a connection to the mother they never knew and, at the conclusion of the story, the knowledge that families come in all shapes and sizes.

Rachel J. Peters' broad array of work encompasses several genres including opera, musical theater, concert work as well as art songs and cabaret. Her work has been performed at music festivals and theaters across the United States. She holds a double B.A. summa cum laude in Music Theater from Brandeis University as well as an MFA in Musical Theater Writing from New York University. This will not be Ms. Peters first appearance in Sarasota. In 2007, the Asolo Conservatory produced an adaptation of Euripedes' The Bacchae which featured an original musical score by Ms. Peters.

The 2016/17 season of the Sarasota Youth Opera program will begin August 16th. For more information on the program and registration information, contact Ben Jewell-Plocher, Manager of Educational Activities, at (941) 366-8450, ext. 249 or visit

Since 1984, Sarasota Youth Opera (SYO) has given young people age 8 to 18 an opportunity to experience the magic of opera through participation in after-school choruses, Sarasota Opera mainstage productions, summer workshops, and the Youth Opera's own full-scale productions. Regarded as a leader in the commissioning and producing of works for young voices, SYO is the only program in the United States committed to presenting annual, full-scale opera productions for young voices with professional musicians, direction, and costume and scenic design.

Since 1986, five commissioned world premieres and over 20 additional youth opera productions have been presented. Past commissions include:

2012 - Little Nemo in Slumberland (music by Daron Hagen, libretto by J.D. McClatchy)

2004 - The Language of Birds (music by John Kennedy, libretto by Peter Krask)

1998 - Eye of Ra (music by Tom Suta, libretto by Diana Colson)

1993 - Her Lightness (music and libretto by Polly Pen)

1989 - Deadline

Sarasota Youth Opera's fifth commission, Little Nemo in Slumberland with music by Daron Hagen and libretto by J.D. McClatchy, featured over 106 young people and used a ground-breaking projection technology called SCRIBE (Self-Contained Rapidly Integratable Background Environment) to bring Winsor McCay's comic strips to life. Since its 2012 world premiere, Little Nemo has been performed by The University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, Tulsa Youth Opera, La Sierra University, and Pittsburgh High School for the Performing Arts.

This fall, the Sarasota Youth Opera will present the United States premiere of The Secret World of Og on November 12th by Canadian composer Dean Burry who will travel to Sarasota for the production. Adapted from the popular children's book by Canadian author Pierre Berton, the story follows a group of siblings who venture into the subterranean world of the Og's to rescue their baby brother and cat. This story has been a favorite with Canadian children since it was first introduced in the 1960's.

All sung roles will be performed by members of the Sarasota Youth Opera program. Stage director Martha Collins (The Hobbit, Brundibár) returns to direct and Youth Opera Music Director Jesse Martins will conduct. The new production will be designed by local scenic designers Donna and Mark Buckalter who have also designed for the Players of Sarasota and the West Coast Black Theater Troupe.

Based on Florida's beautiful Gulf Coast, Sarasota Opera recently completed its 57th consecutive season and the final season of the company's internationally acclaimed Verdi Cycle making it the only company in the world to have performed every work of Giuseppe Verdi.

In 1960, the company began presenting chamber-sized repertoire in the historic 320-seat Asolo Theater on the grounds of Sarasota's Ringling Museum of Art. Recognizing the need for a theater more conducive to opera, the company purchased the former A.B. Edwards Theater in downtown Sarasota in 1979 and first performing in it in 1984 as the Sarasota Opera House. The theater has just undergone a $20 million renovation and rehabilitation enhancing audience amenities, while updating the technical facilities including increasing the size of the orchestra pit. The theater, which reopened in March 2008, has been called "one of America's finest venues for opera" by Musical America.

Since 1983, the company has been under the artistic leadership of Victor DeRenzi and administrative leadership of Executive Director Richard Russell since 2012. The company has garnered international attention with its Masterwork Revivals Series, which presents neglected works of artistic merit, as well as the Verdi Cycle producing the complete works of Giuseppe Verdi. Recognizing the importance of training, Maestro DeRenzi founded the Apprentice Artist and Studio Artist programs. Sarasota Opera also maintains a commitment to education through its Invitation to Opera performances for local schools and the unique Sarasota Youth Opera program.

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