- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Mark Childress is no stranger to having his work adapted.

The Monroeville-born author, recipient of the 2014 Harper Lee Award wrote “Crazy in Alabama,” which became a major Hollywood movie starring Melanie Griffith.

But even he was a bit surprised when Gregory Vajda, conductor of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, said he wanted to turn another Childress novel, “Georgia Bottoms,” into an opera.

“I wasn’t really sure how it would translate into an opera,” Childress said of his 2011 tale of Georgia, a churchgoing woman who has a side business of entertaining local gentlemen in Six Points, Alabama. “It’s got this sexy angle to it, and I didn’t know if that would translate.”

But once Vajda took a first spin through the libretto, Childress was sold, and “Georgia Bottoms: A Comic Opera of the Modern South” was born. The opera, with music by Vajda and libretto by Vajda and Childress, premieres Feb. 21 at Huntsville’s Von Braun Center with soprano Rebecca Nelsen in the title role.

“I never expected in a million years that I’d be working on an opera,” says Childress. “I’ve been to a few of them, but not many. It was really cool working in a whole different medium.”

Once involved in the process, Childress began to see the operatic qualities of his Southern heroine.

“Opera loves melodrama, and they love to have big scenes and a big soprano,” he says. “This has all of those thing. As soon as he convinced me he was serious about the idea, I saw what he saw in the story - the idea of a modern comic opera set in America. There’s hardly anyone doing that.”

Childress has high praise for Nelsen.

“She’s from Texas, so she gets the idea of being Southern without being exaggerated,” he says. “She’s beautiful, which the part calls for. And she has a spectacular voice.”

Childress has yet to see the opera he had a hand in creating, but he knows one thing for sure. Opening night will not drag on.

“One of the stipulations I made is it’s got to be shorter than 90 minutes,” Childress says. “That’s one guarantee I’m making the audience. We’ll get you out in time. I’ve seen Wagner, and I don’t want to have any of that here.”

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