Above: Writer David Cox, Soprano Rachel Levin, and Baritone John Smalley
Writer/composer/video artist David Cox, with Art Director Molly Hankwitz and a talented cast of singers and musicians have created Rocket Opera, a rock operetta that musically examines the history of space exploration, specifically during the 20th Century superpower Space Race. The operetta presents three acts titled: Cosmonauts on the Moon, Lunar Modules, and First Women in Space. Each act appeared separately at Other Cinema between 2014 and 2016, and together would excel as a full opera. The production marries ambition and underground ethos as a carefully studied, grass roots display of mixed genre extravaganza.
The first act, Cosmonauts on the Moon, discusses the former Soviet Union’s failed mission to the moon, a casualty of political manipulations that strained the mission before it was technically mature. Lunar Modules describes details of the development of the US Apollo 11 rocket and its lunar module that landed on the moon in 1969, thanks in part to software engineer Margaret Hamilton. First Women in Space compares stories of Soviet astronaut Valentina Tereshkova and American space pioneer Sally Ride. As a whole, the opera covers historical territory in a way that is coherent, entertaining and metaphorical.
David Cox states:
Both sides lost astronauts and cosmonauts to terrible oxygen-fueled fires, both experienced massive, fatal explosions and both sides faced the terror of the unknown beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. The USA and USSR were, through their enmity, unable to share fully anything that might genuinely assist what might be called a truly global [international] scientific space project. Space Programs were framed as singular, national, geopolitical events with heavy military overtones.
Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space
Sally Ride, the first American woman in space
Musically, the operetta slides between moody art rock, 60s psychodelia and jazz. It features songs with titles such as Institutional Inertia and Flames Appear, all delivered with heavenly, classically-trained vocals against a backdrop of fiery video montage. It would thrive in a full production, with more gestural shape, blocking, and a bigger stage. After all, what would be a more suitable topic for the epic scale of opera than two competitive superpowers vying for landmark discoveries in the astral realm?
Check out this in-depth interview of David Cox: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/rocket-opera-pays-homage-to-women-of-the-space-race
Rocket Opera: An Operetta in 3 Parts by David Cox.
Rachel Levin (Soprano): Valentina Tereshkova
Ania Samborska (Soprano): Soviet Ambassador, Sally Ride
John Smalley (Baritone): Pentagon Spokesperson, Sergei Korolev
Simon Cox: The Voice of Reason
Percussion: Jonathan Parnell
Wind Instruments: Zachary Fischer
Guitars: Jono Jones
Keyboards: David Cox
Art Direction: Molly B. Hankwitz,
Props: Simon Cox
Libretto, Music Compositions: David Cox
Music Arrangements: Jono Jones
Additional Music Composition: John Smalley, Jono Jones
URL for the opera: