Midstate audiences and beyond are encouraged to tune in later this week as Middle Tennessee State University’s True Blue TV premieres the MTSU Stones River Chamber Players’ production of “The Mousewife,” an interactive chamber opera for young audiences.
Originally filmed Sept. 25 in Hinton Hall at Wright Music Building on campus, “The Mousewife” is a 45-minute musical adaptation of the book by the late Rumer Godden.
The performance will air at 10 a.m. Central on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 23, and again at 7:30 p.m. Friday Central, Nov. 24, on True Blue TV, the university’s premier hub for video content and live event programming.
True Blue TV airs on Murfreesboro Comcast Xfinity channels 9 and 1096; and channel 9.1 on the MTSU campus cable. It also airs as channel 195 on DTC in Alexandria; digital channel 206 on United Communications in Chapel Hill; and is among the PEG offerings found on channel 99 on AT&T U-verse in Middle Tennessee. True Blue TV is also streamed live on its website, www.mtsu.edu/truebluetv, as well as Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.
“‘The Mousewife’ is an interactive composition, incorporating young audience participation in cooperation with school music teachers and home school families,” explained Deanna Little, professor of flute who performed in the production.
The story follows Mousewife, a little mouse who builds an unlikely friendship with a wild dove that changes each of their lives. Mousewife is relatively happy but yearns for something beyond the cozy hovel she’s made with her Mousehusband.
When the wounded dove is brought to the house where she lives to live in a cage, Mousewife overcomes her fear of this exotic creature and the two forge a close bond, Little explained.
While Mousewife nurses Dove back to health, he teaches her about freedom and the outside world. In return, Mousewife summons the courage to free Dove — but not before she struggles with the issue of what his leaving will mean to her.
Cast members in the MTSU production of “The Mousewife” include MTSU vocal performance alumna Emily Kent Gritton as Mousewife; Will Perkins, MTSU professor of voice and opera, as Dove; and Kristi Shamburger, interim chair and associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, serves as narrator. Instrumental performers include Little, flute; Christine Kralik, cello; Arun Nadgir, piano; and Reed Thomas, conductor.
The on-campus production also featured 24 third graders from St. Rose of Lima Catholic School who performed as mice, in collaboration with their music teacher, Lindsey Wortham. Other participants include Rebecca Dixon, assistant pastor at Lebanon First United Methodist Church, as Miss Barbara Wilkinson, and student Jacob Diehl, who portrayed Boy.
‘… will bring tears to your eyes’
The operetta features original songs and text by composer Steve Rouse, professor emeritus in the University of Louisville School of Music, in collaboration with his late colleague, Joy Stephens.
Rouse, who retired from the university in 2021, said the technique involved finding places in the original story that allowed for character development and interactions, “kind of cracking the story open at various points and inserting first-person character actions and words.”
He also worked closely — albeit a slow process — to craft the adaptation with the book’s 89-year-old author. “Ms. Godden was living in a tiny Scottish village. Our only form of communication was via phone and fax at a local pub,” Rouse explained.
The musical production was designed for elementary-aged children, with sung and spoken words, although its appeal is decidedly multigenerational.
“Extended techniques were incorporated into the instrumental ensemble to enhance the narrator’s words,” Little said. “The flute, cello and piano mimicked sounds of running, squeaking, indigestion, chasing and a whole array of colors, emotions and motion to fit the text.”
The pinnacle song, “Forever Free,” is an interactive part of the production that engages young audience members to learn it and join in the performance. Other songs include, “I Do Want More,” “Poor Dove” and “Hurry.”
“It is a sweet story and when the dove is set free, in every performance, the audience cheered,” Little recalled. “When the children — and full audiences — stand and sing ‘Forever Free’ together it will bring tears to your eyes.”
Through the multimedia experience, listeners learn about issues like self-esteem, self-sacrifice, friendship, separation, prejudice and personal freedom, Little said.
“The Mousewife” is the inaugural production of the MTSU Stones River Chamber Players’ new arts-inclusive community outreach program, Notes & Tales for Kids.
A grant from MT Internal Grant Opportunities provided funding for the show. In addition to the on-campus show, the production was staged in Murfreesboro at The Discovery School and Washington Theatre at Patterson Park, and Winfree Bryant Middle School in Lebanon.
Little also said she can provide a study guide with talking points, as well as the song, “Forever Free,” for those interested in using for educational purposes. Email her at Deanna.Little@mtsu.edu.
— Nancy DeGennaro (Nancy.DeGennaro@mtsu.edu)