2010 – Rain Dance

Commissioned by W11 Opera in 2010

Synopsis: A crisis faces the animals of the African savannah. Their waterhole is almost dry and a leader is desperately needed to find a solution before they are wiped out. At the hustings, the bullying and corrupt lion, Tau, is elected, but proves to be a disaster. In despair, the animals turn to the fleet-footed hare, Roli, for help.

Ever since Roli’s grandfather embarrassed himself in a race against a plodding tortoise, Roli has lived outside the law on the margins of animal society, a maverick with an independent attitude. Can the cleverest animal on the plain be persuaded to challenge the self-serving Tau and find a solution to the lack of water? Meerkats and warthogs jostle with hippos and jackals in this humorous political drama inspired by Tish Farrell’s story The Hare Who Would Not Be King.

Composer Stuart Hancock  
Librettist Donald Sturrock
Music Director Philip Sunderland
Soloists Roli the Hare, Mandisa, his wife, Tau the Lion, Lamia, Lulu, Layla, Lisha (Four Lionesses), Koni the Rhino, Bello the Meerkat, Kipling the Hornbill, Dikeledi the Drongo, Humbu, an old tortoise, Antoine the Wild Dog, Johnny Jackal, Jackie Jackal, Balosi the Baboon, Thendo the Elephant, Hobo the Hippo, Ndanga the Zebra, Old Zebra, Soloists ‘Iqhawe’ song
Groups Leverets, Baboons, Elephants, Gazelles, Hippos, Hyenas, Meerkats, Warthogs, Zebras  
Orchestra Violins, Viola, Cello, Double bass, Flute, Piccolo, Alto Sax, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Trumpet, Guitar, Percussion  

Notes on Production:

An easily digested and humorous tale of the demise of a ruthless dictator with a nod to climate change when a dried up waterhole brings animals in the African savannah together to find a solution.

Inspired by the music of South Africa, Rain Dance is more in the musical theatre tradition than the operatic.The animals groups sing together with very accessible choruses and musical themes.There is scope for broken voices and Tau, Hobo, Baloosi, Antoine and Thendo were all played by older boys. Some rousing group harmonies in the choruses and a small section of four part harmony.  Musically suited to a wide range of ages with strong solo parts and good group identities for the younger participants. No doubling needed.

One set was used with props for Tau’s palace. Scope for colourful, contemporary costumes. Helpful to have a Movement Director.

Age range from 9 upwards. The four main parts are suitable for older teens…

Running Time: 70 minutes

Music and video

Visit the Video and Audio pages for clips from this production.


Scene 1 – A Waterhole at Sunrise

In a drought-stricken part of the African savannah, the animals, (the zebras, meerkats, hippos, warthogs, elephants and gazelles), are electing a leader to combat the water shortage. At a meeting organised by Bello the Meerkat, Hobo the Hippo and Ndanga the Zebra put themselves forward, observed by journalists Kipling the Hornbill and Dikeledi the Drongo. But Tau the Lion, accompanied by four lionesses, Lamia, Lulu, Lalya and Lisha, enters the contest and wins over the crowd.

Scene 2 – The Foot of a Baobab Tree in Late Morning

At the home of Roli the Hare, his wife, Mandisa, is telling her children, the leverets, of how the Baobab tree got its strange appearance. Koni the Rhino joins in and scares away two hyenas before discussing the election with Mandisa. Roli returns home and explains that he did not stand for election because hares only look out for themselves. The sight of Humbu the Tortoise makes Roli jump; he is still traumatised by the family’s disgrace in the race between a tortoise and Roli’s grandfather long ago. Koni warns him that he cannot stay aloof from society. But Roli and Mandisa sing of how all they need is their love for each other.

Scene 3 – The Waterhole at Midday

The animals, led by Thendo the Elephant, acclaim Tau as their new King. Tau tells the crowd that the drought is caused by global warming for which they need new research headquarters which look, as Kipling notes, like a royal palace! The animals are ordered to start building. Tau’s chef, Antoine the Wild Dog, tells him that his dinner will soon be ready… a dish of zebra!

Scene 4 – The Waterhole – Daytime

The animals are slaving away building Tau’s palace, urged on by the baboons. Roli, disgusted by the degradation of the other animals, especially by the bullying of Koni, makes as if to leave but is challenged by Chief Baboon, Balosi. Roli points out that the building is not a science facility at all and that the animals might as well perform a rain dance for all the good it will do. Roli and Mandisa escape the baboons’ attempts to arrest them, so Balosi offers Dikeledi an interview and begins to poison her mind against Roli. He also orders his baboons to “deal with” Koni.

Scene 5 – Tau’s Palace at Sunset

Two interior designers, Jackie and Johnny Jackal, are finalising the decor. Tau and the lionesses enter and gloat over their new luxurious surroundings. Dikeledi is brought in to interview Tau. Her article is nearly finished, she says – admitting that Balosi wrote most of it and that it attacks Roli for his criticism of Tau. Tau and his lionesses close in: they see Dikeledi as an exotic hors d’oeuvre for their main course: Koni.

Scene 6 – The Desolate Savannah at Evening

The starving, oppressed animals sing a lament. Roli has a nightmare about the famous race which his grandfather lost – but this time it is Roli who is racing, confronted by his own image in mirrors born by mocking tortoises. He wakes up distressed and tells Mandisa his dream. As Mandisa is trying to persuade Roli to make a stand against Tau, Kipling and Bello enter with the newspaper: it calls Roli a traitor, with a challenge from Tau to make it rain. At last Mandisa’s pleas work, and Roli agrees to take on Tau or be his next meal. He begins to teach his family and friends the Rain Dance song. Roli confides to Mandisa that he thinks the dance has no special powers, but will buy them time.

Scene 7 – By the Waterhole in front of the Palace at Night

Storm clouds are gathering overhead, but there is no rain. Roli faces Tau at the waterhole and claims that he is an imposter and that the real Tau lives in the waterhole. Enraged by Roli’s taunts, Tau attacks Roli but then catches sight of his own reflection in the water. Confused and horrified, Tau jumps into the water to attack this usurper, but sinks to the bottom. Meanwhile 
the Rain Dance is heard, and Roli prepares to take his family far away, believing the Rain Dance will be shown to be useless. However, Mandisa and the leverets begin to catch raindrops and there is a full glorious downpour! Roli is acclaimed king.


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