Better Gods, an opera by composer Luna Pearl Woolf and librettist Caitlin Vincent, commissioned by the Washington National Opera, Francesca Zambello, Artistic Director, premiered January 8 and 9, 2016 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Timothy Myers conducted a production directed by Ethan McSweeny. Kumu Hula (master teacher) Vicky Holt Takamine choreographed and advised on Hawaiian language and cultural elements.
“Washington National Opera’s Better Gods brings a mostly unknown chapter in Hawaiian history onto the stage at the Kennedy Center, telling the story of Queen Lili’uokalani, the island nation’s last monarch, with dignity and high artistic values. I imagine the Hawaiian “better gods” are happy.”
Susan Galbraith – DC Theatre Scene
“Woolf’s new and original composition uses Hawaiian instruments to add an audible authenticity to the story. Throughout the opera the nose flute, Kalaʻau (warrior sticks made from strawberry guava trees), and ʻIliʻili (stone castanets) amplify the sadness and desperation of the Queen to maintain Hawaii’s culture.
This fascinating and heart-wrenching story of Better Gods is a production worth seeing. The touches of Hawaiian authenticity, and the tremendous strength of the performers, make the new fascinating and heart-wrenching Better Gods from the Washington National Opera a powerful experience.”
Kendall Mostafavi – DC Metro Theater Arts
“The Washington National Opera has always been a champion for young artists, both on stage and off. The WNO’s American Opera Initiative’s premier production of Better Gods is a testimony to that. Composed with ethnical truth by Luna Pearl Woolf, Better Gods is a stirring portrait of a determined Queen who must decide whether she should give up her crown or her soul.
Based on the true story of the annexation of Hawaii in 1898, and Queen Lili`uokalani’s struggle to keep her nation together. The story, as told with brutal honest through Caitlin Vincent’s stirring libretto, is a bold choice to be told at the Kennedy Center. A dark moment in our nation’s history, the fact that this story can be told at the nation’s premier art centers is a testament to the work of both the WNO and the Kennedy Center.
Ms. Woolf’s gorgeous score is underlined by the use of traditional Hawaiian chants and her score utilized authentic instruments like the nose flute, Kala’au (percussive sticks), and Ili’ili (castanets), that are native to the island. Ms. Woolf’s score also uses Queen Lili`uokalani’s famous composition, “Aloha ‘Oe”, sung in gorgeous counterpoint by soprano Ariana Wehr.”
Keith Tittermary – BWW Opera World
Daryl Freedman as Queen Liliʻuokalani – photo by Scott Suchman for WNO
Timothy J. Bruno as Judge Albert Judd, Rexford Tester as Lorrin Thurston, and Daryl Freedman as Queen Liliʻuokalani – photo by Scott Suchman for WNO
Rexford Tester as Lorrin Thurston, Timothy J. Bruno as Judge Albert Judd, Daryl Freedman as Queen Liliʻuokalani, Ariana Wehr as Kahua, and Hunter Enoch as James Miller – photo by Scott Suchman for WNO
Duration: 60 Minutes
QUEEN LILI’UOKALANI – mezzo soprano
A devout Christian determined to preserve Hawaiian culture and tradition. Regal and intelligent, but not without a sense of humor.
LORRIN THURSTON – tenor
The grandson of the first American missionaries in Hawaii and the political force behind Hawaii’s annexation movement. Ambitious and ruthless.
JAMES MILLER – baritone
A reporter for the Associated Press. Clever and charming, but ultimately naïve.
ROBERT WILCOX – bass
A Hawaiian soldier and politician. Loyal, idealistic, and hot-tempered.
JUDGE ALBERT JUDD – bass
A judge for the kingdom of Hawaii. Thurston’s man to the core.
KAHUA – soprano
A local Hawaiian girl mentored by Lili’uokalani.
SOLDIERS – Three non-singing actors.
Orchestration (14 players):
Flute / Piccolo / Alto Flute
Oboe / English Horn
Horn in F / Nose Flute I / Nose Flute II
Percussion I + II
Violin I + II
Viola I + II
Cello I + II
Hawaiian instrument set available for rent:
Shells – variety of sizes in muted frame drum or basket.
‘Ili’ili (Stone castanets) – 2 pair.
Pu’ili (split bamboo rattle) – 1 pair.
‘Ulili (Pulled gourd rattle).
Kala’au (Hard wood sticks, 18” and 72”) – 2 pair. Shared with WILCOX.
Ipu heke (Double gourd drum) – with rug or small mat for striking.
Ka ‘eke’eke (Bamboo pipes ) – 2 sets of 6 pipes, pitched lowest to highest: D# F# A B F G, with striking boards. Shared with KAHUA.
Nose Flute I – pitches approximately G Bb C D-A (overblown). Played by Flute / Horn.
Nose Flute II – pitches approximately C# E F# G#-D (overblown). Played by KAHUA or Flute / Horn.
Custom-made Ka ‘eke’eke (Pitched bamboo pipes)
For more information or to request a perusal score and screening copy of the Washington National Opera’s premiere production, please contact us.