In the nearly 70 years since late author Ray Bradbury published “The Illustrated Man,” various short stories in the classic science fiction anthology have been adapted for film, stage and television. Now, four of them serve as the basis for “The Bradbury Tattoos,” an ambitious new rock opera, scheduled to premiere July 13 and 22 at Memorial Hall in Cincinnati.
Written by composer Zac Greenberg and librettist Michael Burnham, “The Bradbury Tattoos” will be presented by concert:nova, a contemporary-classical ensemble founded by musicians from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Partial funding for the production is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.
“The opera is in four movements,” Greenberg explained. “The first three movements happen simultaneously, in different rooms. The audience moves from room to room, and then everyone comes together in the main hall for the grand finale.”
Stylistically, the movements range from classical string quartet to avant-garde classical, folk and big band. Though the stories are different, they share a common theme of humans coping with a frightening future:
“Kaleidoscope” – The crew of a disabled spacecraft reflects on their lives, while drifting toward death.
“Zero Hour” – Children play a game called “Invasion,” which turns out to be more than a game.
“The Highway” – A husband and wife who live near a highway help refugees fleeing a nuclear war.
“The Last Night of the World” – A married couple goes about their normal routines, despite realizing that the world is about to end.
As in Bradbury’s original book, the operatic stories are woven together by an enigmatic character called “the Illustrated Man,” whose body is covered by animated tattoos. For “The Bradbury Tattoos,” Greenberg and his collaborators enlisted the help of renowned tattoo artist Steven Mast to design the visual elements.
“The opera is about how people react to unusual situations,” Greenberg said. “After David Bowie died, I was talking with Ted Nelson, co-artistic director of concert:nova, about how so much of his music was character-driven. We wanted to do something similar, and then I started thinking about Ray Bradbury‘s stories. We approached Michael Burnham to write the libretto.”
Burnham is a retired theatre professor, who formerly taught at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). He has narrated symphony concerts for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Salt Lake Symphony Opera and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, among others. His adaptation of Stravinsky’s “l’Histoire du Soldat” (which he directed while playing the Devil) premiered at the Salt Lake Symphony Opera. He is a recipient of the League of Cincinnati Theatres’ Sustained Achievement Award and was inducted into the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards Hall of Fame.
“Bradbury is not giving us cautionary tales here, so much as he is pointing out all the little things we want to and ought to hang onto and cherish as we struggle in our move toward a more just and loving world,” Burnham said.
Greenberg, who is based in New York, has composed music for numerous film and stage productions. His credits include the feature-length motion picture “Straight Outta Tompkins” in addition to modern dance projects for Sean Green‘s Shieldwall, Charlotte Katherine & Co. in Los Angeles, the Cincinnati Ballet Company, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and more. He is the founder of Taste Recording Studio NYC and is a cofounder of Almost Holden Collective LA-NYC and Musicians for Health.
The world premiere of “The Bradbury Tattoos” will take place at Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio, on Friday, July 13, at 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 22, at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $40 general admission/$20 students and are available at www.memorialhallotr.com or by calling (513) 977-8838. Information about “The Bradbury Tattoos” and concert:nova is available at http://concertnova.com/bradbury-tattoos/.