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FWO Archives: The World Premiere of 'Companionship'

In may of 2019, Fort Worth Opera presented a delightfully wicked world premiere opera by composer-librettist Rachel J. Peters. Adapted from the short story by internationally bestselling author Arthur Phillips, this delicious dark comedy follows the obsessive quest of an aspiring baker named Leslie Sinclair. Recovering from a nervous breakdown, she sets out to bake the perfect baguette when the 207,345th one suddenly comes to life before her very eyes.

Begging to be fed, The Dough promises to reveal a mysterious "great wisedom," if only she will obey its every wish and whim. This timely tale mirrors our modern world, where what we consume becomes all-consuming. Companionship is the first opera written by a woman to be produced by Fort Worth Opera in its 73-year history.

"This project began on a whim in 2011 with scenes for a concert featuring Brooklyn Book festival authors, one of whom was Arthur, and I couldn't let it go," says Peters. "The piece has evolved as I've come to better understand why Arthur's story has such great resonance for me, both personally and on a more macro level. At first, I only knew that I identified with Leslie. During a later workshop, the topic of redemption came up; there was a collective wish to see Leslie rewarded for her sacrifice. But that is too neat and easy a conclusion. The Dough never reveals what 'the great wisedom' is.

Rachel J. Peters, Composer/ Librettist
Rachel J. Peters, Composer/ Librettist

A major facet that changed along the way was the gender of the Dough. In earlier drafts, the Dough was male and the Mate was female. Then I thought it might be interesting to make it a countertenor to give it an otherworldly ambiguity. The Dough needed to be a surreal projection of the very specific ways women can be horribly manipulative to one another. (...But I promise ifs also funny!) As one doesn't expect a baguette to come to life, I was beginning to think this opera might never be fully realized. I couldn't be happier that after all these years, it's finally in the capable hands at Fort Worth Opera and I'll be able to share it with the company's loyal and adventurous fans. May 1st can't come soon enough!"

Laura Anderson Barbata
Laura Anderson Barbata

"Director Beth Greenberg and I have taken inspiration from Bauhaus, the Ballets Russes, and artist Kansai Yamamoto. We looked at Picasso's Guernica and the way he was able to visually represent an emotional landscape. I can't wait for audiences to see and respond to the way we are animating objects and illustrating the interior life of our central character and the people in her life and imagination," says Laura Anderson Barbata, the Production Designer for Companionship.

Concept Drawings of Costumes from 'Companionship,' Laura Anderson Barbata
Concept Drawings of Costumes from 'Companionship,' Laura Anderson Barbata
If you missed Companionship, you can still learn more about it! WRR's Amy Bishop interviewed Rachel J. Peters about being the first female Composer/ Librettist in our 74-year history.

Leslie is a petrie dish of flaws. We get to watch as she tries to sort through, dissect, find a solution, and then inevitably fall back into her same struggles all over again. Leslie is an intense, over dramatized, dark-comedy version of what so many people struggle with on a daily basis. Art is at it's best when delivered with brutal honesty, and received with full understanding. Leslie is full of dark truths about each of us, and I can't wait to dive into portraying her." - Maren Weinberger

Maron Weinberger; Photo by Joshua Pharris
Maren Weinberger; Photo by Joshua Pharris

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