A scene of a litter-flooded forest as seen in the "Trash Opera" PSA. Photos by Brian J. Boudreaux courtesy the Louisiana Stormwater Coalition.

Opéra Louisiane helps tackle litter with a ‘Trash Opera’ PSA

Piles of garbage and the sweet sounds of music are not a typical conceptual combination, but for Opéra Louisiane’s latest project with Brew Agency and the Louisiana Stormwater Coalition, the two themes manage to form an unexpected union for anti-litter advocacy. 

In what has become known as the Trash Opera”—a PSA video produced to highlight the Coalition’s grassroots efforts to fund stormwater management programs (which can be hindered by flooding caused by clogs of Louisiana litter)—scenes of our state’s beautiful waterways lead into footage of trash-strewn streambeds where volunteers stab and pluck at rivers of plastic debris. Just make sure you turn the volume up as you watch; in the background, you’ll hear an adaptation of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”—these days best known from Disney’s Fantasia—arranged with a unique Louisiana flair by Opéra Louisiane artistic director Michael Borowitz. 

A flow chart from the Louisiana Stormwater Coalition breaks down the basics of stormwater management, the main idea behind PSA videos like the “Trash Opera.”

“We at Opéra Louisiane were approached by Marie Constantin, an avid spokesperson for the work that the Louisiana Stormwater Coalition is doing here in Baton Rouge, who asked if we would be willing to collaborate with the ultra-talented folks at Brew Agency to come up with a short musical PSA,” says Borowitz. “Our first order of business was to find music— specifically vocal music—that could speak to this important issue in our community in a way that would match the arresting visual images that Brew Agency would be providing. I ended up choosing a musical moment from Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on Bald Mountain,’ with its slightly ominous, swirling sounds that evoke the idea of water choked by trash. As for lyrics, I translated them into Cajun French to give them more of a local flavor and punch.”

“Litter dams” like this one are common in Louisiana and frequently clog waterways, causing flooding.

The video, which was originally created for the 2021 Ebb & Flow Festival thanks to a grant from the Arts Council of Baton Rouge, also features Borowitz’s own talents on the piano, as well as the vocals of Eric Morgan and Keturah Heard.  

“Because of the pandemic, we recorded all tracks separately from each other, and I engineered and edited them together to produce the final soundtrack,” says Borowitz. 

Even as the Louisiana Stormwater Coalition continues to propose state legislation that would declare stormwater a utility, and promotes legislation that addresses the problems of water affected by litter, the power of music and the moving images make for quite the motivator to anyone who wants to give back.

“Opera itself has always been a vehicle for responding to political pressures, power struggles and aspects of love, both negative and positive,” says Borowitz. “This project specifically offered us an opportunity to engage an online audience’s ears by creating an atmosphere of urgency.”

To view the “Trash Opera” PSA, visit the Brew Agency’s YouTube channel. For more about the work of the Louisiana Stormwater Coalition, visit louisianastormwater.com or check out this story honoring the Coalition’s founders as some of this year’s inRegister Women with a Cause.