In the aftermath of a war that ravaged America, a family clings to their existence; teenaged Lisa holds onto the hope of a better world as her family spirals into the depths of starvation and despair. When a stranger – a man who acts like and thinks of himself as a dog – arrives on her doorstep, they are forced to confront what it means to be human and what they will do to survive.
The above summary may sound like the logline of a post-apocalyptic thriller, but it is not a film.
It’s a multi-media opera.
LA Opera presented Dog Days in June at REDCAT as part of the Off Grand initiative, which brings thrilling contemporary chamber opera to LAO audiences. It was the west coast premiere of the opera, developed and produced by Beth Morrison Projects in New York. Inventive, thrillingly evocative of the human condition, and visceral, Dog Days has garnered a great deal of interest in the burgeoning indie opera scene.
Now, LA Opera and Beth Morrison have joined forces again to present two of Beth Morrison Projects’ (BMP) operas this season at REDCAT: Song from the Uproar and Anatomy Theater. Combining live musical performance and original film, Song from the Uproar (October 8-11), tells the incredible story of Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904), a young woman who left her life in Switzerland behind for an unfettered existence in the North African desert. Anatomy Theater follows the astonishing progression of an English murderess: from confession to execution and, ultimately, public dissection before a paying audience of fascinated onlookers. Through the miracle of opera, she sings through it all.
Both Song from the Uproar and Anatomy Theater are visionary productions that stretch the traditional opera medium. This is something producer Beth Morrison feels strongly about. For Morrison, “it all starts with the composer and the music.” When she hears a score that is inventive and emotional, she’s thunderstruck. It’s a process that happened very significantly with Song from the Uproar. She and composer Missy Mazzoli knew each other. Mazzoli had studied at Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute (where Morrison worked at the time) and then they both attended Yale University for graduate school. Yet, while Morrison was familiar with the project, it took hearing the haunting score for the first time for Morrison to become the projects’ producing champion.
Morrison connected Mazzoli with director Gia Forakis, whose “stylized choreography merged perfectly with [Mazzoli’s] minimalism.” Another key creative is librettist Royce Vavrek. His words brought out the nuances of Mazzoli’s score throughout the development and workshop process. Song from the Uproar would go on to premiere in 2012 at The Kitchen in New York to rave reviews.
One of the most revolutionary things about BMP’s work is that operas are taken from early development through the touring stage with the same cast/creatives involved. Morrison discusses how this allows the creative focus of the piece to remain constant and also allows artists to really grow with the opera. For instance, mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer has played Isabelle Eberhardt in Song from the Uproar, since the production’s BMP infancy and will grace the stage at REDCAT next month for the production’s west coast premiere.
BMP’s relationship with LA Opera began two years ago when president and CEO Christopher Koelsch cold-called Morrison to discuss presenting some of her productions. The relationship has blossomed into a multi-year partnership (including the upcoming two this season) that further LA Opera’s mission of bringing innovative opera to the Los Angeles community.
Much like LA Opera’s founding mission, Morrison set out to “fundamentally change the art form theatrically.” She only produces operas that she wholeheartedly believes in and that musically “feel now.” Through BMP’s extensive body of work, including successful domestic and international tours, Morrison has more than lived up to her original mission. And she’s not done yet – in New York or LA.