Opera Modesto - "The Race"
Director Carolina Stevens, center, working with the cast of Opera Modesto's The Race

Opera Modesto commissioned The Race in 2018 as a youth opera for training budding talent, and originally intended to mount a conventional stage production. When the pandemic precluded that vision, the nimble company turned on a dime and reimagined the project as a movie. The result of that serendipitous decision is a film that has garnered dozens of awards in multiple categories and has gained official-selection status at 35 international film festivals to date. It’s now available for streaming through May 9.

Composed by Deborah Kavasch with a libretto by Linda Bunney-Sarhad, the opera is a mashup of five well-known Aesop’s Fables. Using the “The Tortoise and the Hare” as a framework, the story weaves elements from “The Bear and the Bees,” “The Hares and the Frogs,” “The Fox and the Grapes,” and “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” into the narrative.

Opera Modesto - "The Race"
A scene from Opera Modesto's The Race

“What a thrill to be commissioned by Opera Modesto to write an opera for young singers based on Aesop’s fables with their ageless appeal to all audiences,” said Kavasch. “The brilliant libretto by Linda Bunney-Sarhad got my creative juices and laughter flowing immediately. Who would have guessed that The Race would have to be made into a film to be performed? And what a special experience to work with such an amazing production team and cast! I am so grateful that The Race can be shared internationally as both a learning tool and a delightful introduction to opera.”

Directed by Carolina Stevens, The Race was filmed on location in Central Valley orchards, fields, vineyards, and by the Tuolumne River with a cast of 19 diverse youth artists, 11-19 years old. Librettist Bunney-Sarhad said the cast transformed her vision beyond her imagination. “When I was writing the characters, I saw them in my mind as cartoon characters — sometimes as stick figures,” she said. “When they were performed, they became so much more than I had dreamed. Watching this magic happen brought tears to my eyes. Wonderful!”

The project is going to have impact beyond training the performers and providing entertainment, too. According to a company press release, “Ultimately, the movie will be subtitled in English, captioned in 20 languages, have ASL Interpretation, be accompanied by a multilingual graphic novel and made available as a tool for ESL/literacy to teachers and schools locally and internationally.”

The show runs through May 9. Admission prices are flexible. For tickets and more information about The Race, visit Opera Modesto’s website.

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