Remember your summer reading assignments during summer vacation? For young book lovers they are easy homework, and for some adults, summer is still the time to find some spare time and enjoy a book out on the porch or on a trip to the beach. If you’re discovering a new favorite book this summer, these adaptions give you the opportunity to see that book in a whole new light, as a modern opera.


1. Little Women

While it may not seem like an opera based on a book originally published in the late 19th century fits the bill of a “modern opera,” Mark Adamo’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel is one of the best operas written in recent years. Although it premiered in 1998 at the Houston Grand Opera, this opera has frequently been performed all over the world since.

Little Women follows the same characters and setting as the original novel, but changes the timeline of the story slightly. Still, despite being set during the American Civil War, the lessons that Jo and her sisters learn are timeless and still resonate today. Plus, Mark Adamo’s score and lyrics are solid enough to make this show worth the price of admission alone.


2. Moby Dick

Everyone knows Herman Melville’s classic epic following an obsessive ship captain and his unrelenting mission to hunt the eponymous whale, but seeing it adapted into an opera is truly something special. This work strongly stands out from most other modern operas. Moby Dick first premiered at the Dallas Opera in 2010 and has been performed throughout this decade.

While there are some differences in this adaptation of Melville’s classic, the same themes are still present, and this tale of revenge and obsession will have you smelling the sea and hearing waves before it’s over. Jake Heggie’s score makes this already epic story even more engaging, making this show a perfect combination of modern opera and a classic tale.


3. The Handmaid’s Tale

You are now probably familiar with Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel by the same name thanks to the successful television adaptation the television. Television isn’t the only medium that Atwood’s popular dystopian story has been adapted to, and if you’re a fan of the T.V. series and opera than this piece is a match made in heaven for you.

Although The Handmaid’s Tale opera doesn’t follow strict opera conventions, the chorus of the Handmaids and the vocal score of this opera will leave most opera lovers moved as they would be by a regular opera. Despite the fact that it first premiered in 2000, this opera still has a story that has been proved relevant time and time again by several adaptations in film, television, and opera.


4. The Great Gatsby

This opera based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most popular work has all the out of control fun and excess of the 1920’s. While it received mixed reviews when it premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2000, this opera is still popular enough to have been performed at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Semperoper in Dresden. If you’re a die-hard fan of the original novel, then the ending of this opera may disappoint you due to a slight change, but seeing Gatsby on stage and in the form of opera is something any fan will enjoy.

Despite some small changes, this opera respects the source material and the period in which the novel takes place. Whether it’s through the dazzling set design or the reverence for 1920’s pop music, this opera can transport the audience back to the roaring 20’s. If your inner flapper or philosopher is calling for a release, then this is the opera for you.


5. 1984

If you’re a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, then you’re probably familiar with George Orwell’s classic 1984. You may not know the most famous dystopian novel of all time was adapted into an opera that premiered at the Royal Opera House in 2005. Even though this opera received negative reviews, it wasn’t for lack of talent and experience. After all, this opera premiered to a sold out crowd at the Royal Opera House and also showed at La Scala.

While the story is left intact in this opera, most of its criticism comes from a libretto that fails to live up to the score and the prose of its source material. Another knock against this show was its long history in development hell, which gave the show the appearance of a passion project instead of a work up to the Royal Opera House’s standards by the time it premiered. Still, fans of the original story will find it here, and this show may be an easy transition for a book lover into opera.

Be sure to check out our fantastic collection of opera here on Cennarium!

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