A new opera premieres in Las Cruces this weekend
The struggle between good and evil forms the basis of countless stories throughout history, but when Lon W. Chaffin saw the growth of hateful speech on social media, he realized he wanted to put that struggle in a contemporary context. And, he says, he realized, “I need to say something as a composer. I need to do something to help people be more encouraging, more compassionate.” The composer, who teaches at NMSU, told Leora Zeitlin in this interview that he was disheartened by what he was seeing online. “You see a lot of things on social media that are just hateful, from people that are complete strangers, that don’t know the people they are verbally attacking.”
His response was to write a new one-act opera, “The Burden of Love,” which will be premiered this weekend by NMSU students and faculty. He began the process by surveying students, faculty, and staff to learn who might share their experiences of depression, loneliness, or trauma, and also who were the people who encouraged them and gave them hope. Chaffin was so moved by what people wrote that he used quotes from the survey in the text of “Burden of Love.” To carry through the connection to social media, the opera’s supratitles will be projected on a screen in the kind of dialogue boxes one sees in texts and chatboxes.
Sarah Neely, who is a visiting professor at NMSU, is the opera’s director and plays one of the characters. “I very much appreciate Dr. Chaffin’s vision for the opera, and that he has such strong ideas and concepts,” she said, which have helped her build relationships with the students and guide them in learning the music and the acting.
The opera’s main characters are named Goel (meaning “the redeemer,” and symbolizing love) and Haras (the destroyer, symbolizing evil), and other characters have names inspired by screen aliases, such as Abused, Abandoned, Proud. “I tell people the opera is basically about hurting and desperate people who are caught between good and evil,” Chaffin said. “You want the good and loving to win.” Listen to the full interview to learn more about the opera, Chaffin’s creative process, and the staging, which will include the entire orchestra on stage.
Performances are at the Atkinson Recital Hall on Saturday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 26 at 3 p.m. Listen to the full interview to hear more about the opera, Chaffin’s creative process, and the unusual staging, which includes the orchestra on the stage. Musical clips were provided by the composer.