The Minnesota Opera announced Thursday that it’s creating an opera based on a novel by acclaimed Minneapolis children’s author Kate DiCamillo. It plans to stage “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” the tale of a toy rabbit, in November 2019.
Books by rock-star writer DiCamillo have become bestsellers. They’ve amassed accolades, including two Newbery Medals. They’ve inspired big-budget movies.
But an opera? That’s new.
“It thrills me,” DiCamillo said by phone. “It’s been this little golden ball inside of me when I think about it.”
Over the past decade, the Minnesota Opera has become nationally known for launching new works, including “Silent Night,” which won a Pulitzer Prize, “The Manchurian Candidate” and an operatic adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Shining.”
But “Edward Tulane” will be the most kid-friendly of the bunch. It’s also the first one composed by a woman.
“Most new opera commissions tend to be very adult,” said artistic director Dale Johnson, taking on “hard, dramatic issues.” But opera leaders wondered whether they could create something audience members of all ages could enjoy.
“I don’t think we can just ignore the next generation of operagoers,” Johnson said. “We have a duty, really, to talk to everyone.”
The opera’s words will be penned by librettist Mark Campbell, who wrote “Silent Night” and, in 2017, premiered four new operas, including one in Minnesota. “He’s kind of our go-to guy,” Johnson said. The opera has also enlisted hip composer Paola Prestini — known for her boundary-bending works. She’s up for the challenges this story presents, Johnson said, including: “How do you make a china rabbit sing?”
Edward’s geographic and emotional journey always struck DiCamillo as operatic, she said. She remembers, years back, telling a former professor, “Wouldn’t it be spectacular if Edward Tulane became an opera?” A ridiculous idea, she thought at the time.
But the story about the china rabbit has had a crazy “life of its own,” she said.
The novel became popular in Russia, and a puppet show version was staged in Moscow.
A character in a South Korean soap opera read the book on-screen, prompting popularity in that country, too. It inspired a play here in the United States.
A classical music fan, DiCamillo loves how opera is “so dramatic and so magical.” She hopes to observe some of the opera’s creation, being backstage for key moments.
“I’m sure open to being a little mouse back there,” she said. “I would love that.”