By Ted AYALA
If you’ve been around since at least the 1990s, you’ve heard of them. “Extreme.” “Max.” “Uber [insert noun, verb, or adjective here].” They’re products and genres that take familiar ideas and push them further than you thought possible. Those Doritos too boring for you? Try their “extreme” cousins. Just make sure you keep them away from grandpa. So in that spirit we now we have – “hyperopera?”
Anne Le Baron’s “Crescent City,” to be premiered tonight, May 10 at the Atwater Crossing in Los Angeles, is the newest foray in a genre that the composer promises to be more “immersive.” Almost literally, given the opera’s subject matter – namely, flooding.
“I think it’s a very American kind of hybrid,” said Timur Bekbosunov, star of “Crescent City.” “What you have here is this remarkable amalgam of different musical idioms: pop, jazz, electronica, all informed by a contemporary, modernist language. It’s really quite incredible.”
“Those that come to the show who are already familiar with opera will find themselves on firm footing,” said composer Le Baron. “But it takes these ideas further. The staging, for example, which is very up-close. The audience will, in many respects, be part of the work. It’s also reflected in the opera’s orchestration, which uses the familiar orchestra, but also adds in electronic instruments which provide pounding beats and rhythms. There’s even a musical saw.”
“Crescent City,” which Le Baron has been working on for over six years, was borne from a previous opera called “Wet.” Dealing with flooding as the crux of its drama, it became eerily prescient of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the city of New Orleans the next day. The composer, who hails from the region, was moved to expand the subject further. What triggered her pen was the neglect and disdain New Orleans suffered from many quarters in the wake of the tragedy.
“It was shocking to read major essays and articles with people coming out saying that we should just abandon New Orleans. In other words, it wasn’t worth being saved. That just resonated so deeply with me. The fact that people could be so cruel.”
At the heart of the opera is the destruction that a hurricane inflicts on the inhabitants of Crescent City – with another one looming on the horizon.
It’s a work that is conceived not only as an entertainment, but also as a musical polemic.
“There’s something about music that can affect a person in a much more universal way,” said the composer. “I want to open people’s eyes to the things they may not notice around them.”
Though approaching a serious subject matter, the opera expresses its ideas in a compelling manner. It’s also a powerful indicator that opera, that supposedly stale old genre, remains a viable medium for expression and communication, perhaps even more vital today than ever.
“You have this old stereotype of opera as being tedious and boring,” said Bekbosunov. “But modern opera is so vibrant. You only have to go back 40 or 50 years to hear the effect the avant-garde has had on music as a whole. Tape loops, electronic instruments – those aren’t new ideas. We’ve been there already. That’s what makes [Crescent City] so fulfilling for me. That it uses these ideas so powerfully.”
“Crescent City” plays from May 10 to May 27 at the Atwater Crossing in Los Angeles. For more information go online to http://theindustryla.org/projects/crescentcity/; for tickets go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/222549.