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‘Speed Dating Tonight’: Operatic musical chairs for lovers

Shea Perry and Ian Johnson star in “Speed Dating Tonight!” (Courtesy of Mary Brzezinski)

Shea Perry and Ian Johnson star in “Speed Dating Tonight!” (Courtesy of Mary Brzezinski)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “Speed Dating Tonight!” is a tale of modern musical chairs dressed as a comic opera.

The “Origamist” pairs up with “I Love Cats” at the end.

Most of the characters lack names; they’re presented by their interests and/or behavior. There are “Car Man,” “I Feel Awkward,” “Pat the Bassoonist” and “Talkative Girl,” as well as the paper-folding and kitty-loving couple already mentioned.

Michael Ching’s wildly popular showpiece opens at the University of New Mexico’s Keller Hall next weekend.

“It’s some pieces of conversation of people who are speed dating,” said Leslie Umphrey, co-director of the piece with Sam Shepperson.

“They’re very, very humorous, but some are quite poignant,” she said. “This piece is going to have 40 performances (across the U.S.) this year. In a school situation, you’re always looking for something for kids to be involved in.”

The Iowa-based Ching wrote the opera in 2013 specifically for voice students. The composer will adapt the score for varying numbers of singers, voice types, genders and lengths of time through cutting, reordering or transposing keys.

The music is contemporary.

“The music is not easy,” Umphrey said. “It’s absolutely beautiful; it’s tonal, for the most part. However, a lot of it is atonal. It is certainly intellectually stimulating.”

The UNM production encompasses 21 singers backed by a five-piece ensemble. The opera’s middle section features 1- to 2-minute “dater arias.” Additional characters include “Panic Attack,” “Combat Photographer (Liar),” “I’ve Been Lurking” and “Lives at Home.”

A verbal tiff erupts between an ex-girlfriend and boyfriend, Shepperson said.

“He asks her if their dog misses him,” he said. “He left his teddy bear at her house, so she brings it in her purse and throws it at him.”