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Bob Bernard's Corner: A Moveable Operatic Feast

Resisting Operatic Boredom and Convention

By Bob Bernard

A seemingly abandoned warehouse.

This is where, in the classic radio drama The Green Hornet, “daring young publisher” Britt Reid stored his auto, Black Beauty, when it was not needed for his ongoing battle against criminals and racketeers and scumbags.

A while back in Long Beach, Long Beach Opera’s daring young General and Artistic Director Andreas Mitisek, tooling about on his black beauty of a Triax bike, took notice of an abandoned furniture warehouse [the Expo] on Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach and was inspired to adapt it for his ongoing battle against operatic boredom and convention. This inspiration was manifested as an innovative production of Luigi Cherubini’s Medea in January 2011.

Functioning as a one-man creative team, Maestro Mitisek designed stage, set, and lighting. He had a platform of translucent squares constructed with lighting issuing from color-variant LEDs that were located beneath the set. The principals never left this stage, their participation in action being coordinated with the switching on and off of whatever light square lay beneath them. This eerie, low-to-high directional lighting produced a concomitant visual effect that was descriptive of the unsavory nature of many of the opera’s characters.

Ranging from West Los Angeles to Irvine, Long Beach Opera [LBO] has utilized an eclectic selection of venues for a substantial number of their productions since Maestro Mitisek assumed the directorship in 2004. Sometimes the subject matter has dictated the venue, as was the case with Grigori Frid’s The Diary of Anne Frank. By twice placing the set in parking garages --- first, adjoining the Sinai Temple in West LA and then in the Lincoln Park garage in Long Beach --- LBO evoked an immediate association with the bare attic existence of the young girl and her extended family in World War II Amsterdam.

With such a radical choice for a venue, unique problems were necessarily addressed:

  • Restroom facilities were accommodated by arranging for use of the Sinai Temple’s facilities in West LA and, with the cooperation of the city of Long Beach, the use of Lincoln Park’s nearby library.
  • Keeping the audience size below three hundred allowed the existent ventilation patterns to accommodate this need.
  • Home Depot provided the necessary fluorescent lights, and placing dimmers in a series with these then allowed for illumination modulation during a performance.
  • Providentially, these below-ground sites, by their very nature, were found to have sufficient ambient temperature stabilization characteristics.

Another case of subject matter inspiring a choice of venue was the use of the Long Beach Belmont Plaza’s Olympic Pool as the stage for Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus & Euridice in 2010. Originally performed on a conventional stage by a New York dance company, this work readily lent itself to associating the River Styx with this, our own conveniently located body of water. Soprano Elizabeth Futral, with her previous experience of skinny-dipping in an onstage hot tub for LA Opera’s production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare, was a natural for the role of Euridice.

In 2011, the conventional Terrace Theatre in Long Beach was twice used in highly unconventional ways:

(1) For Philip Glass’ Akhnaten, state-of-the-art use of IR technology was used to create time-variant, collective visual displays that were previously impossible to generate [read Projecting the Invisible]:

(2) For David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, the physical relationship of stage and audience were flip-flopped so as to enhance the perception of great depth to the setting. That is, with the audience seated on risers on the stage, the performers now faced the stage, both from three independently-controlled risers in the pit and from locations deep in the permanent theater seats. The orchestra was also located in the theater’s permanent seats, off from stage right.

The 2012 season began with a setting of Horacio Ferrer’s adaptation of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires in San Pedro’s historic Warner Grand Theatre. Using the 50’ by 40’ screen and scrim combination to the fullest, the existing projection capability of the theater (using both archival and made-for-the-occasion material), coupled with selective behind-the-scrim scene illumination, all made for a theater experience that was only possible in a venue such as this.

Now, LBO’s 2019-2020 season will continue with venues of the Aquarium of the Pacific for Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse and the Sunnyside Cemetery for Gavin Bryers’ Billy The Kid.

The battle against operatic boredom and convention endures.

Author: Thomas Lady

Categories: Bob Bernard's CornerNumber of views: 466