Premiering in May 2009, the opera is based on Winsor McCay's comic strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland, which ran in the New York Herald and New York American newspapers from 1905 through 1913. The surreal, dark and sometimes violent cartoon follows the dreams of a boy who has been summoned by a king to be the "playmate" to his daughter. Though it didn't achieve the popularity of contemporaneous slapstick cartoons, the strip's illustrations and style influenced such artists as Moebius, Chris Ware, William Joyce and Maurice Sendak.
"The significance of the project has already been recognized and supported by a grant from the Joy McCann Foundation and many of our other key supporters," Sarasota Opera artistic director Victor DeRenzi said in a statement. "To have such a distinguished team write a piece for our Youth Opera program is certainly an honor and a unique opportunity for the community and our Youth Opera members."
Established in 1984, SYO is one of relatively few organizations in the U.S. devoted to presenting musical works composed expressly for children. Its members receive year-round vocal instruction and performance opportunities through a program culminating in the production of an operatic work written to be sung by young people. Guided by Sarasota Opera professional music and production staff, members perform the work on the main stage of the Sarasota Opera House.
The Rorem-McClatchy opera will be SYO's fifth commission by Sarasota Opera. Previous SYO productions include Britten's The Little Sweep, Copland's The Second Hurricane and John Rutter's The Piper of Hamelin. The SYO also commissioned a work in 2004: John Kennedy's The Language of Birds.