Bodhi Tree Concerts Celebrates a Decade of Music
BY BETH WOODWRITER SEPT. 19, 2021 5 AM PT
Upcoming concert is a fundraiser for Bodhi Tree Concerts’ commission of an original children’s opera in English and Spanish, ‘Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale’
When Bodhi Tree Concerts proclaims its next decade will be “Bigger, Bolder, Kinder,” it’s no idle promise. The local nonprofit’s 10th anniversary celebration Saturday is a quick look back and a huge step forward. The anniversary event — where its 2021-22 season will be announced — is a fundraiser for Bodhi Tree Concerts’ commission of an original children’s opera in English and Spanish. Titled “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale,” it will be premiered binationally and later developed into educational programs for kids.
The opera’s dream team of composer and librettist? None other than Pulitzer Prize winner and University of California San Diego professor Anthony Davis and New York-based poet-author and UCSD professor emeritus Quincy Troupe.
“We can’t believe how lucky our small organization is to have these two giants working with us,” said Diana DuMelle, who co-founded and co-directs Bodhi Tree with her husband, Walter. “It feels huge and amazing, but we are up to it. We’re so motivated.”
Davis, who has composed eight operas, won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in music for “The Central Park Five.” It will be performed by the Portland Opera in March and the Long Beach Opera in June. In May, Michigan Opera Theatre will produce “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X,” which Davis wrote in 1986.
On Thursday, New York’s famed Metropolitan Opera announced that it will produce “X” in fall 2023. Davis will be just the second Black composer the Met has presented in its 138-year history. The first, Terence Blanchard, will see his opera, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” open at the Met later this month.
For “Pancho Rabbit,” Davis’ requested that Troupe, his longtime friend, write the libretto for the new opera. That’s not surprising since they’ve collaborated on many projects and frequently performed together.
Troupe has written 10 volumes of poetry, three children’s books and six non-fiction works, including “Miles: The Autobiography of Miles Davis” and the memoir “Miles & Me.” In 2010, Troupe won the American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement.
The opera will be based on the book “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale” by Duncan Tonatiuh. It received the Tomas Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award in 2014.
“I was looking around for a good story for the opera,” Davis said. “A friend showed me ‘Pancho Rabbit.’ The story’s about immigration, which is right up my alley. “ ‘Pancho Rabbit’ has resonance with the current political situation. It’s like ‘Animal Farm’ and other books that use animal characters to deal with serious themes. Children will enjoy it and adults will know the subtext.”
In addition to raising funds for “Pancho Rabbit,” Saturday’s concert will celebrate Bodhi Tree’s decade of what the DuMelles call “intentional kindness through music.” Pre-pandemic, the organization distributed around $35,000 to local charities. Each concert, San Diego artists were paid to perform whatever they chose. The upcoming event switches the payment model for the first time. “We’re uncomfortable around it because people are always asking artists to perform for free,” Diana DuMelle said. “This is the only time they are appearing for free. They stepped up willingly and lovingly.”
Added Walter DuMelle, who will sing at the concert: “Two dozen artists are coming back to Bodhi Tree for this. We think very little about what we want them to do. We say: ‘Give us a few minutes that will bring you joy’.”
The artists performing at the concert will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Ditto the staff. Masks will be required for everyone entering the venue, regardless of vaccination status.
Diana DuMelle’s three years of grant writing has resulted in two new major grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Conrad Prebys Foundation. Those, along with gifts from donors and the anniversary event, will help Bodhi Tree get closer to its goals. “We are so grateful to the artists,” she said. “Not only will this provide what we need for the ‘Pancho Rabbit’ commission, but also help us start our next year of concerts really strong.
“We’re a grassroots company, so the commission is more money than a whole season would cost us. When we say ‘Bigger, Bolder, Kinder,’ that’s what we’re talking about. “We also plan to greatly expand our arts education program. We will fundraise to bring ‘Pancho Rabbit’ to schools as a residency, so kids can perform it.” In 2014, when their son Dylan was in elementary school, the DuMelles produced the Czech opera “Brundibar.” Local children filled the cast and audience, which participated in the Q&A. “The impact it made on these kids to be treated as professionals and act like professionals really stuck with us,” Walter DuMelle said. “We saw how powerful an experience it was for them, so we followed it up later with another children’s opera. “We realized not a lot of good repertoire was available that could engage children in a meaningful way. We put feelers out in the universe to add to this small canon.”
The universe was cooperative. Davis told the DuMelles that he’d always wanted to do a children’s opera. And they all agreed “Pancho Rabbit” was the ideal vehicle.
Davis and Troupe plan to expand on the book, which was written from a Mexican point of view. They may add touches of magic realism. The composer will integrate Norteño elements into the score.
“That will provide a lightheartedness to the music,” Davis said. “Pancho’s songs capture aspects of northern Mexican culture. “The advantage of a children’s narrative is that it’s straightforward and clear. That’s why I can make a compelling opera.”
Artists performing at Bodhi Tree Concerts event Saturday
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Choir San Diego’s Ken Anderson and Dale Fleming: “Strange Fruit”
Pianists Nicolas Reveles and Ines Irawati: Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro”
Walter DuMelle and Vanessa Dinning: “A Little Priest” from “Sweeney Todd”
Jonathan Nussman: Stephen Sondheim’s “Sorry-Grateful”
The many other talented performers include pianist-composer Anthony Davis; jazz artist Irving Flores; flamenco dancers Isabella and Blanca Valenzuela; accordionist Mark Danisovszky;jazz bassist Rob Thorsen; singers Leonard Patton and Kim Hendrix-Racine; pianist Brendan Nguyen and mezzo-soprano Leslie Leytham.