In a world of too much screen time and dwindling fine and performing arts programs within schools, children will have access to an enchanting free show by Opera Saratoga this summer, an imaginative story about friendship that will be performed at venues across town.
The Selfish Giant—sung in English with beautiful, modern music and great for kids as young as 5—brings Oscar Wilde’s beloved short story to life, with its themes of kindness and inclusion via a garden that needs children to blossom.
“This family show is a really special take on an Oscar Wilde children’s book, which stars a giant shutting out children from inhabiting his garden,” says Mary Birnbaum, Opera Saratoga’s new general and artistic director. “As soon as he closes the gate on these children, his beautiful spaces are cast into eternal winter. The giant decides that he will let one of the children back in, and spring returns. So, under duress from a magical tree and a child who refuses to take no for an answer, he eventually decides to share his green space.”
The idea for this new children’s opera grew like one of the giant’s beautiful flowers after the show’s librettist and producer Lila Palmer recognized the jailed beauty of meticulously cared for private gardens in London. “As a young woman working as a secretary, I often took the bus past Hyde Park and through Chelsea on a stunning route past the lovely green spaces of London and its most elegant Georgian neighborhoods,” she says. “With my bird’s-eye view from the double-decker bus, I could stare down into the many private gardens—green oases of beauty behind imposing wrought-iron fences, to which only the homeowners possess keys.”
The story of the isolated giant in his stark garden stuck with her, and years later she wrote the opera during the pandemic. “What we were all craving was each other, even as we increasingly fled from human contact,” she says. “The great horror of the pandemic was the darkness of selfishness and mutual mistrust, just as the lights in that time were acts of courage and connection.”
The Opera Saratoga performances of The Selfish Giant star professional artists who find great joy in sharing their love of music and theater with children, and they do question-and-answer sessions after each show. Performances include outdoor showings at the Saratoga Farmers Market and Pitney Meadows, an 11am show at Saratoga Library, and two Universal Preservation Hall options with a preshow tea party with Saratoga Tea and Honey.
“This little opera is as much a prayer as entertainment,” Palmer says, “it is a belief that across our differences we can choose to share, to live together, and thrive.”
The Selfish Giant’s June 3-July 8 performances are free to the public, but registration is required. Visit operasaratoga.org to register for free tickets and for virtual curriculums organized by grade.
Commissioned by American Lyric Theater | Lawrence Edelson, Artistic and General Director | The Selfish Giant was developed under the auspices of the Composer Librettist Development Program at American Lyric Theater in New York City, which is made possible through lead funding from the Mellon Foundation, the Howard Gilman Foundation, the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.