Yuval Sharon, artistic director of the experimental L.A. opera company the Industry, believes that opera is an emerging art form. Yes, he knows it's been around since the late 16th century, but he's passionate about its future: What opera can be.
In support of that idea, the Industry has teamed up with a modern music collective, wild Up, to present an afternoon of workshops featuring six operas in development.
Called "First Take," the day of performances will feature guest singers including Joan La Barbara. The program will take place Saturday at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.
The workshop allows composers and librettists to see how a live audience responds to their work, which will be performed by Industry singers alongside wild Up musicians performing as a 20-piece chamber orchestra. It also gives the creators a sense of how the music sounds when it's not coming through the speakers on their desktop.
"All six of these pieces are masterfully written and extraordinary in totally different ways," Sharon says. "It really makes you feel that the future is so exciting, and that it stretches in so many different directions."
In true Industry style, the invitation for the event was crafted to look like the viewer-discretion-advised ratings box on a movie poster.
"The following operas contain adult language, drug use, violence, sexuality, criminal behavior, miscommunication and Harry Partch instruments," it reads in a decidedly modern take on what has arguably been the nature of operas throughout history.
The Harry Partch instruments, futuristic-looking amalgamations and alterations of woodwinds, stringed instruments and reed organs, among others, will be employed in service of composer Anne LeBaron's piece, "LSD: The Opera."
In a short video created for "First Take," LeBaron explained how she is striving to use music to conjure the elusive, ethereal, deeply personal state one might experience on LSD.
Because audiences will see only a 20-minute chunk of each opera under construction, a short video will precede each one. The videos, Sharon says, aim to make the audiences feel as included as the composers and librettists.
"We really want this to be something that audiences can engage with instead of just throwing them into the world of the music without introduction," Sharon says. "The videos give you an idea of what the librettists and composers are thinking."
This is the second "First Take." The first took place at the Hammer Museum in 2013. The idea is to make the event a biennial.
The inaugural program drew 30 submissions. The new one drew 75, a fact that Sharon attributes to the growing excitement about modern opera in general, as well as the rising profile of the Industry, which garnered praise after staging a fantastical, interactive opera for headphones called "Invisible Cities" in Union Station in 2013.
"Bonnie and Clyde" is among the six operas being staged at "First Take" this week. Its composer, Andrew McIntosh, is also working with the Industry on the upcoming opera "Hopscotch," which will take place in 18 cars navigating L.A. streets while viewers watch at a central hub in downtown L.A.
"We've been working on it for close to two years," McIntosh says of the laborious process of writing "Bonnie and Clyde," adding that about a year ago, a portion of it was staged at REDCAT. "I learned a lot from the experience of having a few scenes done last year, and that information, I'm sure, had an influence on the writing I did after that."
McIntosh hopes the same creative guidance and inspiration will strike after he sees his new work performed at "First Take."
"Bonnie and Clyde" explores and seeks to explode myths surrounding the lover outlaws.
"Pop culture has transformed them into these legendary icons and cultural heroes symbolizing freedom and love, but we're interested in going past that," he says. "Yes there was freedom and love, but in a way they were more trapped. They started a chain of bad decisions that left them quite caged."
That fresh approach to material is what attracted the Industry to McIntosh's work, as well as the work of the five other composers in "First Take."
"The Industry's mission is to develop new operas that expand the definition of what opera can be," Sharon says. "We stayed away from more traditional and dramaturgically traditional forms and looked for ones that pushed the envelope as far as it could go."
"First Take." The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. Programs run from 1 to 2 p.m., 2:15 to 3:15 p.m. and 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Audience members can come for one session or stay for the whole program. Free. www.theindustryla.org; www.wildup.la
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