Ninth Planet To Present the World Premiere of PROSPERO'S ISLAND

The new opera, based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, is written by composer Allen Shearer and librettist Claudia Stevens.

By: Aug. 10, 2022
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Ninth Planet To Present the World Premiere of PROSPERO'S ISLAND

Ninth Planet has announced the March 25, 2023 world premiere at Herbst Theater in San Francisco of a major new chamber opera, PROSPERO'S ISLAND based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, by composer Allen Shearer and librettist Claudia Stevens. For tickets, please visit:

In this riveting story of magic, deception and revelation, Shearer and Stevens transport Shakespeare's great play to the Falkland Islands and fast-forward the action to the 1950s.

With vivid imagery and compelling music, the opera evokes the atmosphere of a desolate island and raging surf, adorable penguins, young lovers, and two fantastical, other-worldly beings created by Prospero.

Audiences will meet the sheltered Mandy, cut off from the world, discovering love and her own identity, the earnest co-pilot Andy, on the trail of her father for his past crimes against humanity, and the over-the-top air crew of Steffi and Trish as they carouse and dance. They will be joined by young members of the Grammy-winning San Francisco Girls Chorus as the island's penguins, trilling, vocalizing and parroting the human speech Prospero has taught them. For this is Shakespeare, but it is also takes us beyond Shakespeare.

In two acts with a running time of 115 minutes including one intermission, PROSPERO'S ISLAND features seven of the play's main characters. Andrew Dwan as Prospero and Shawnette Sulker as Ariel lead the cast. Bay Area favorites Bradley Kynard, Amy Foote, Sergio Gonzalez, Candace Johnson and Julia Hathaway portray the opera's other iconic characters. The chamber orchestra of Ninth Planet players and invited performers is conducted by Nathaniel Berman, with Philip Lowery as stage director. A pre-show celebration of the premiere and composer Shearer's fifty-year Bay Area career is being planned.

The Tempest, Shakespeare's last play, has long been a favorite of audiences. In it, Shakespeare presents a father and daughter: Prospero, exiled on an island, having been forced from power in Italy, and his beloved daughter Miranda, who has known nothing but life on the island for fourteen years. Prospero hopes to see her married, and this drives him to create a storm and shipwreck that brings the ship's crew to his shore. Prospero is one of the most fascinating characters in all of theatre, often thought to be Shakespeare himself, as he wrestles with his own demons, finally- and famously--staging his own farewell to the theater.

Stevens' libretto for PROSPERO'S ISLAND retains the basic trajectory, whimsy and humor of Shakespeare's drama, along with the play's essential characters and their dramatic interplay. It focuses on the complex but loving relationship of Prospero and teenage Miranda, and it is enriched by Prospero's strange, chimera-like servants: Ariel, who is both bird and human, and the vulgar Caliban, one devoted, the other full of anger. And as in the play, Stephano and Trinculo, reimagined as female members of the air crew who parachute down to the island, drink, carouse and plot with Caliban. But in the opera Prospero is given a darker past, with greater complexity and additional layers to his character.

For Shakespeare, "unnatural" meant something abhorrent, destructive, even evil. The opera's Prospero had defied nature. Committing a terrible breach of medical ethics and human decency, under the Third Reich he had crossed human with animal subjects in his lab. The products of his egregious experiments fifteen years later have grown into troubled teenagers Ariel and Caliban. And Prospero has not given up his attempts to subvert nature and bend it to his will. On his island, he has compelled Falkland penguins to mimic human speech and culture. The consequences may be amusing, both for the audience and for the performers who portray those penguins. But it is clear that Prospero has violated the natural order, and in the end the penguins must, and will, return to their own ways. Our fragile relationship with the natural world is a compelling subtext of PROSPERO'S ISLAND. Projections that celebrate the untamed magnificence of the Falklands will add powerfully to the opera.

Shearer's and Stevens' last major operatic works were HOWARDS END, AMERICA, its 2019 world premiere at San Francisco's Z Space (Earplay's first production of chamber opera) attended by press coverage at the national level; and MIDDLEMARCH IN SPRING, produced on "New Works" at Z Space and named "one of the ten best opera events of 2015" by Joshua Kosman. PROSPERO'S ISLAND was longer in the making, its genesis spanning two decades. Pertinent to current issues, it meditates on the deepest of human concerns: the demands of love and loyalty; the capacity for forgiveness; the nature of freedom; the possibility for reconciliation. Composer Shearer writes of his process, "I am reminded of a quote from Louis Simpson that, in composing this score I 'must have a stomach that can digest rubber, coal, uranium, moons, poems.' It has been an amazing journey." Librettist Stevens writes, "Shakespeare's The Tempest is not just a much-loved play about a powerful magician on an island. It is a work, adapted many times for film, theater and opera, whose fantasy and deeper significance transcend its time and setting. The opera PROSPERO'S ISLAND provocatively transforms the play's plot and characters to become a story about and for all of us."

The cast of PROSPERO'S ISLAND features leading Bay Area and national artists. New York-based bass-baritone Andrew Dawn, a 2021 Merola artist and twice a finalist in regional Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, appears as the opera's protagonist, Prospero. Dwan boasts a growing reputation for his masterful portrayal of characters ranging from comic Nick Bottom in Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream to Mephistopheles in Faust. Soprano Amy Foote, as the opera's Miranda, delighted Bay Area audiences in the title role of a recent West Edge Opera production of The Cunning Little Vixen.

As the transcendent Ariel, coloratura soprano Shawnette Sulker has appeared in major roles with nearly every Bay Area company, performing a wide repertoire ranging from Mozart's Queen of the Night to River Woman in Tarik O'Regan's Heart of Darkness with Opera Parallele. Lyric tenor Sergio Gonzalez, as Andy, the opera's heart-throb vying for Miranda's love, has earned a Bay Area following for his performances in romantic roles from Don Ottavio to Laurie in Little Women. Bradley Kynard, baritone, appears as a disgruntled teenage Caliban at war with the island penguins. He enjoys a growing reputation for performance of a variety of roles ranging from Terence Blanchard's Champion with Opera Parallèle to Manon with San Francisco Opera. Soprano Candace Johnson, a favorite with Bay Area audiences for her one-woman shows, concert and opera appearances, will bring to life the opera's comic "security agent," Trish. Candace appeared as fading club singer Jackie in the 2019 San Francisco premiere of Shearer/Stevens' opera Howards End, America. Soprano Julia Hathaway, as Trish's comic sidekick Steffi, has appeared frequently in West Edge Opera Snapshot productions.

Portraying the island's delightful penguins are San Francisco Girls Chorus School, Members of Level III Ensemble, Valérie Sainte-Agathe, Artistic Director, Terry Alvord, Level III Director. San Francisco Girls Chorus has garnered numerous Grammy and ASCAP awards

Ninth Planet is a new music ensemble and service organization dedicated to the commissioning, performance and furthering of new music, especially the works of young composers and artists and those from underrepresented communities. Created in 2019 as a merger of Wild Rumpus and Composers, Inc., Ninth Planet continues the traditions of both organizations by commissioning new works, continuing to offer the Suzanne and Lee Ettelson Composer's Award instituted by Composers, Inc., and performing existing, innovative pieces that stretch the genre's limits. Concert programs represent a range of styles, with emphasis on local composers, women and LGBTQA+ composers, and composers of color. Ninth Planet prioritizes close interaction with their guest composers, seeking to invite them into the rehearsal process and the thoughtful presentation of their work in concert. PROSPERO'S ISLAND is the first opera production by Ninth Planet. With its content and its diverse cast, the opera reflects the values and high performance standard with which Ninth Planet is associated. Ninth Planet is a registered not-for-profit organization.


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