"Dog Days" is a production unlike any the LSU Opera has put on stage.
"This work is intensely dramatic, raw and cutting edge," says Dugg McDonough, LSU Opera director. "We've never done anything like this before, and we're hoping that the audience comes with an open mind, because it is something new and extraordinary."
The opera, which the company will perform Jan. 26 and Jan. 28, was composed by David T. Little with the libretto by Royce Vavrek, the same team that penned the opera "JFK" in 2016.
"They're two of the most admired, celebrated and successful writers of contemporary American opera," McDonough says, adding that LSU will be the first collegiate opera to perform "Dog Days," which premiered in 2012. "It's a different kind of experience in opera. David said he and Royce didn't want this to be operatic but more like a conversation."
Which is how it will play out on LSU's Reilly Theatre stage.
"Dog Days" is performed in three acts, with each act representing a different season. The story opens in a dystopian United States, which has fallen into chaos during an undefined war.
At its center is a family — parents, two sons and a daughter — doing what they can to survive.
Suddenly, a man in a dog suit shows up and befriends the daughter. She makes him her pet, but dad won't have it, confronting the dog-man, saying, "Stand up like a man."
Time passes and food is scarce.
"I heard in China people eat dogs," one of the brothers says.
His comment is the catalyst for the story's most intense series of events.
"It takes this traditional iconic grouping of this family and challenges them to keep their sanity and humanity," McDonough says. "The dog has a different effect on everyone in the family, and it speaks volumes on their level of humanity. The results are devastating, yet what the daughter does at the end has hope through this devastation."
Little traveled to LSU last week to work with the cast in the Reilly.
"We'd like to start doing more of this when we do these kinds of operas," McDonough says. "David spent time sharing his vision for the show with all of us, and it has really made a difference."
McDonough glances at the family home constructed in such a way to draw the audience into the action.
"They're going to see something different," he says, still looking at the set, "and it's highly compelling, extraordinary and original. It's the darkest opera I've ever directed, and it's my hope that they keep their minds open to it."
Even the music is "not going to be the usual orchestra that you would expect in opera," says Michael Borowitz, music director. "It's going to have an electric guitar, and it does some interesting things with sound."
The orchestra will occupy the vast space behind the set in the Reilly, which McDonough says, is more conducive to this kind of production.
"We switched our opera schedule this year," McDonough says. "Whereas we used to do four operas, we're doing three, and we spaced them out differently, and when we started scheduling, we learned that Swine Palace would be using the Shaver Theatre, so we asked about the Reilly. And this ended up being the better space for this show."
An LSU Opera production
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26, 3 p.m. Jan. 28.
WHERE: Reilly Theatre, Tower Drive, LSU campus.
TICKETS/INFO: $29; $19, seniors; $14 students with valid LSU ID. (225) 578-3261 or cmda.lsu.edu