The other day, we had a pleasure to sit with Nelson Denman, the creator of the Rights of Nature Folk Opera. Below are some highlights from our conversation. Support the Rights of Nature Folk Opera project at IndieGoGo!
1. Why is rights of nature legislation so important?
The Rights of Nature Legislation gives legal backing to communities and nations that are trying to preserve natural ecosystems in the places where they live. They recognize that this preservation is essential for survival, and Rights of Nature legislation aids in that preservation.
Before this legislation was passed, deforestation, mining, oil drilling and unsustainable development were rampant. Even though these practices still exist, this legislation quickly formed a movement globally where communities everywhere realize that they can use the power of the “rule of law” as an ally towards community and ecosystem protection. This ripple effect is manifesting around the world. My vision is to further this dynamic effort, bringing awareness of this important and transformative legislation through the arts, specifically a folk opera.
2. What is a “folk opera?” Are there precedents for folk operas being used in similar ways? And why did you select this format for this production?
A folk opera is a politically motivated musical theater genre of African origins that combines native wisdom with modern musical forms. It’s an artistic experience of a particular culture and its mindsets and traditions in which we gain greater understanding and emotional insight. A modern example of this is Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Gershwin subtitled this “An American Folk Opera” and highlighted issues of race, tradition and national identity — a distinct evolution from his classical roots.
Because of the large indigenous population and grassroots efforts in Ecuador, the folk opera is an ideal genre. The Rights of Nature Folk Opera will feature native folk traditions and musical styles accompanied by an orchestra with classical operatic forms (arias, recitatives, chorus, etc.). To my knowledge, there has not been an international folk opera produced focusing on a specific environmental issue. An opportunity exists to tell this story in this genre.
3. Who will be the actors?
Depending on the place of production, the actors and actresses will be chosen from auditions that will be held prior to the performance. Attempts will be made to include actors local and native to the countries and bioregions where the work is performed. The purpose for this is to inspire and involve the community where the production takes place to this global movement, in a local way.
4. How do you envision the folk opera going around the world?
For the last 20+ years, I have been involved with permaculture, ecological design and environmental movement in both North and South America. Throughout the years, I have cultivated many relationships with local and national organizations as such as The Sierra Club, The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, Wild Earth Guardians, the International Permaculture Movement, to name a few. I will leverage these relationships and utilize their reach on behalf of this project.
For example, the Sierra Club has a national membership that exceeds one million. What’s more, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund has been instrumental in supporting indigenous people protecting the environment in Ecuador. Planning is underway to involve them in this project for mutually beneficial outcomes.
Global movement, Local Performances
Initial performances are targeted for New Mexico, California and Ecuador to be held in concert halls, community centers, and schools and colleges.
Nelson Denman is a graduate of John’s College (B.A. ‘85) and Harvard University (M.Ed.’95). His essay, “The Greening of Harvard”, was delivered at the First International Greening of the Campus Conference. At St. John’s, Nelson was the recipient of the award for “Outstanding Contribution to the College Community.” He has taught Deep Ecology, Permaculture and Ecological Design around the world. As a musician and cellist, he performs in the Kamuela Philharmonic, the University of Hawaii, Hilo Symphony, and other venues internationally. He teaches guitar, bass, violin, mandolin and cello. His musical, “The Healing Island”, was chosen as an art project of the North Kohala Community Resource Center in Hawaii.
For more information, see the Rights of Nature Folk Opera website.