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Bienen School presents Chicago-area premiere of David T. Little’s ‘Dog Days’

Northwestern Opera Theater and Institute for New Music production runs Nov. 21 to 24

David T. Little’s dystopian opera “Dog Days” makes its Chicago-area premiere when Northwestern University’s Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, together with the school’s Institute for New Music, presents a limited run Nov. 21 to 24 at the Ryan Opera Theater, located in the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts at 70 Arts Circle Drive on the Evanston campus.

The production marks the first collaboration between Bienen’s Institute for New Music and the opera program. “Dog Days” is directed by Joachim Schamberger and features the Bienen School’s Contemporary Music Ensemble, conducted by Alan Pierson. Pierson conducted the world premiere of “Dog Days” in 2012 at Peak Performance at Montclair State University in New Jersey in association with Beth Morrison Projects.

Bienen faculty provide an overview of the Institute for New Music in this short video “What is New Music?”

With a libretto by Royce Vavrek and music by Little, “Dog Days” is based on a post-apocalyptic 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 appearance of this new visitor raises numerous questions for both the characters and the audience: 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?

Audience advisory: This production contains graphic violence, explicit language and adult situations.

David T. Little photographed by Merri CyrComposer Little will return to the Bienen School Nov. 5 to 8 and Nov. 19 to 22 to coach the cast and orchestra and to work with Bienen composition students.

During his first Bienen residency in spring of 2019, Little addressed students’ wide-ranging questions about his writing process and how aspects of the characters are embedded into the notes and rhythms of the score.

“It was exciting to revisit some of those moments and remember the act of creating Lisa and Prince and the boys,” Little said.  

“I grew up with a lot of different musical influences. I would go from ‘Oklahoma!’ one minute to Napalm Death the next,” he said. “These extremes defined my musical language. I feel the expressive potential of each of those stylistic worlds. I think partially why I got into opera is that it’s a world that can support this kind of aesthetic variety because you are telling a story.”

“‘Dog Days’ is gritty and provides many provocative and shocking moments,” Schamberger said. “The music language that David found for the story is incredible – it really impacts you. Unlike classical operas, ‘Dog Days’ dives into the action quickly without a need for exposition, which makes it a great first opera for the uninitiated.”

Bienen senior Morgan Mastrangelo performs the role of Prince, a man dressed in a dog suit.

“What this piece really does is shine a light on how our humanity changes as we undergo hardship,” Mastrangelo said. “In this society, as resources become scarcer, it asks how humans will maintain compassion in the face of scarcity and how we treat those who are lesser and more vulnerable than us.”

“Dog Days” performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are $18 for the general public and $8 for full-time students with valid ID and are available online at, by phone at 847-467-4000 or in person at the Bienen School ticket office located at the southeast entrance of Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive. Ticket office hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

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