Long Beach Opera lands another head-spinner from Yuval Sharon in 2021: ‘Comet/Poppea’

"Les Enfants Terribles," performed last year at One Festival at Opera Omaha.
(Adam Larsen)

As concert halls and theaters across the country remain closed with no clear picture for how and when live shows will resume, Long Beach Opera is forging ahead Tuesday and announcing its 2021 lineup, a “Season of Solidarity” curated by interim artistic advisor Yuval Sharon.

The biggest question surrounding the season has been which production the MacArthur fellow would choose to direct himself. The answer: “Comet/Poppea,” new work conceived by Sharon that uses Monteverdi’s last opera, “The Coronation of Poppea,” as a jumping-off point for the work of another MacArthur genius, George Lewis, whose newly written opera is based on the W.E.B. Du Bois short story “The Comet.”

“Comet/Poppea” is meant to both critique and celebrate all that is unique and compelling about opera. Sharon, as he is known to do, has conceived an unconventional staging: a rotating playing space that divides the show and the audience in two. One half delves into an ancient world, with Monteverdi’s music performed by Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and the other half dwells in the 20th century, with Lewis’ music played by American Modern Opera Company (libretto by Douglas Kearney).


A co-production with lead producers Anthony Roth Costanzo and Cath Brittan, PBO and AMOC, “Comet/Poppea” will have its world premiere June 2 in New York before opening June 20 in Long Beach.

“Between Long Beach Opera and Yuval Sharon’s productions for the Industry, opera has existed in parking lots, train stations, swimming pools, automobiles and city streets during the past four decades in Los Angeles County,” Jennifer Rivera, Long Beach Opera’s chief executive and executive director, said in the announcement Tuesday. “Together, we plan to continue to find creative ways to bring the incredible collaborative art form of opera to people in our community.”

As proof of that mission, the three other 2021 Long Beach Opera productions will include the regional premiere of Peter Maxwell Davies’ “The Lighthouse,” to be staged at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

“The Lighthouse,” which was postponed when the coronavirus outbreak canceled the remainder of the 2019-20 season, will kick off the 2021 lineup Jan. 23. It takes place in Scotland at the end of the 19th century and dramatizes the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers who are driven to madness by solitude. The company’s departing artistic director, Andreas Mitisek, will direct.

Next up is the Long Beach Opera premiere of “Les Enfants Terribles” by Philip Glass. The work marks the completion of Glass’ trilogy based on the work of Jean Cocteau and examines the unpredictable nature of youth. The dance-heavy performance is directed by James Darrah and features conductor and Wild Up artistic director Christopher Rountree, presiding over a score featuring three overlapping pianos.

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A phenomenal group of women leads the third production, a double bill of groundbreaking work featuring solo female protagonists written more than 100 years apart: Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” (1912), and Kate Soper’s “Voices From the Killing Jar” (2014). The former finds a solitary woman roaming 21 haunting dreamscapes, and the latter asks the soloist to conjure up eight of literature’s most famous female characters from the likes of “The Great Gatsby” and “Don Giovanni” in service of reclaiming female narratives from a male-dominated playbook.

Pierrot Lunaireis staged and choreographed by Danielle Agami in collaboration with her dance company, Ate9. “Voices From the Killing Jar” is directed by Zoe Aja Moore. Both shows are conducted by Jenny Wong, the associate conductor of Los Angeles Master Chorale and a co-conductor of the Industry’s “Sweet Land,” the critically acclaimed immersive opera that Sharon’s company had to close mid-run as the coronavirus outbreak spread in L.A.

The season announcement caps a spate of good news in hard times for Long Beach Opera, coming shortly after composer Anthony Davis won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for “The Central Park Five,” which staged its world premiere in Long Beach last summer.

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