In June, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis presents the world premiere of Steve Mackey and Rinde Eckert’s 25-minute chamber opera, Moon Tea, a colorful, witty retelling of the historic 1969 meeting between the British royal family and the Apollo 11 astronauts upon their return from the moon.
GRAMMY-winning composer Steven Mackey and Obie Award-winning librettist Rinde Eckert have completed a monumental task in an unthinkable amount of time: They’ve written a new opera for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in less than two months.
The colorful 25-minute opera, called Moon Tea, tells the story of the historic moment when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, invited the Apollo 11 astronauts to Buckingham Palace for tea, fresh from their triumphant moon landing in 1969. The opera receives its world premiere June 10-18 in four live presentations with in-person audiences in an outdoor setting next to Webster University. The performances will also be recorded and made available to purchase and stream at a later date to be announced.
While hurtling towards their goal, Mackey and Eckert had the advantage of previously collaborating on multiple major works, including Dreamhouse, Slide and Lonely Motel, and the critically acclaimed monodrama Ravenshead, based on another real-life story from 1969 of Donald Crowhurst, who dared to make an ill-fated non-stop solo sailing race around the world. Mackey and Eckert are also members of the eclectic composer-performer band Big Farm, together with electric bassist Mark Haanstra and percussionist Jason Treuting of So Percussion.
Written in five scenes, Moon Tea is structured as a series of monologues (and one duet) for each of the five characters—Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Neil and Janet Armstrong, and Captain Michael Collins—that culminates in a final virtuosic quintet. The score calls for a string quartet, piano, drum set, and percussion, which will be performed by members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under the baton of conductor Daniela Candillari. Each successive scene reveals vibrant, witty portraits of the characters: Neil Armstrong, sick and sneezing from what he calls a “moon microbe”; his wife Janet, who fantasizes about becoming best friends with the queen; and the tragic Captain Mike Collins, who stayed onboard the shuttle during the moon landing, damned by his proximity to greatness.
“Moon Tea is a ‘fish out of water’ story, which is something I’ve always loved. The astronauts have just carried out this extraordinary landmark mission, but find it challenging to navigate the protocols of visiting the Queen and Prince Philip, who themselves dream of reaching the heights of these men. I’ve been personally obsessed with the moon landing ever since Kennedy called the shot in 1962 while I was a kid living in England, and then of course after watching it on television in 1969. I was excited to pursue the story of this quiet, quirky event after being reminded of it a couple years ago, during its 50th anniversary.”
Poignantly, the opera (which was completed at the end of 2020) opens with a stirring aria by the character of Prince Philip, who sings, “Imagine me there, too … no more the handmaid of history, on a rocket to the moon.” Given new significance after the recent passing of the Duke of Edinburgh, the aria represents a frame of mind Mackey describes as being held by men of this generation: a drive to make something of oneself and to be a “man of action.”
The historic meeting of the royal family with the Apollo 11 astronauts has also been famously depicted in Netflix’s hit television series The Crown. When asked if he was influenced by the popular show, Mackey responds, “I’m a huge fan of The Crown! The opera isn’t based off the show, but when I saw that episode, I thought, that’s a story I would love to tell.”
Moon Tea was commissioned as part of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s New Works, Bold Voices Lab, and will be premiered alongside two other new operas by American composers and librettists: On the Edge by composer Laura Karpman and librettist Taura Stinson, and The Tongue & The Lash by composer Damien Sneed and librettist Karen Chilton. Learn more at ExperienceOpera.org/nwbv-lab.
World premiere opera by
Steven Mackey, Composer | Rinde Eckert, Librettist
Thu, June 10 at 8pm CT
Sat, June 12 at 8pm CT
Wed, June 16 at 8pm CT
Fri, June 18 at 8pm CT
Cast & Creative Team
Daniela Candillari, Conductor
James Robinson, Stage Director
Monica Dewey, Queen Elizabeth II, soprano
Melody Wilson, Janet Armstrong, alto
Jonathan Johnson, Prince Philip, tenor
Michael Day, Captain Collins, tenor
Jarrett Porter, Neil Armstrong, baritone
More information at ExperienceOpera.org/nwbv-lab
> Further information on Work: Moon Tea
Photo: Kah Poon
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