Long Beach Opera ends its 2010 Season this weekend with a three-performance revival of its staging -- if that's the word for a production largely on the surface of a swimming pool -- of Ricky Ian Gordon's song cycle, Orpheus and Euridice. (Saturday is a near sell-out, but tickets seem to be available for tonight and Sunday.)
LBO has had two particularly sterling seasons in a row now, as witness my previous gushings over, for example, their winning, moving Cunning Little Vixen, their wonderfully silly Motezuma, and, earlier this year, their triumphant Nixon in China.
As the 2010 season circles the drain of the Belmont Pool, LBO has just announced its 32nd season for 2011, which holds at least as much promise as has been delivered these past two years. While budget constraints have forced our other major company to roll back the number and size of its productions, Long Beach soldiers on with an adventurous campaign of four West Coast or southern California premieres, skewing toward work of the last half century:
First up, and oldest on the program, is Luigi Cherubini's Medea (1797), to be staged in an abandoned big-box furniture store in January 2011. The role of Medea is closely associated with Maria Callas, who sang it to acclaim at La Scala and elsewhere in the late '50s and early '60s. She is not expected to sing the role in Long Beach.
Beethoven is reputed to have thought Cherubini the very finest of his contemporaries; Cherubini is reputed to have thought Beethoven unspeakably rude and his music incomprehensible.
March 2011 brings us the item that already has me most excited: the western premiere of the full version of Philip Glass's Akhnaten (1984), the third component of the trilogy that includes Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha. Akhnaten concerns itself with the pharaoh of that name (more commonly spelled "Akhenaten"), spouse to Nefertiti and father of Tutankhamen, who tried and failed to institute a new monotheistic religious order in Egypt in the 14th century B.C.
This very brief excerpt comes from the absolutely free(!) Orange Mountain Music Philip Glass Sampler Vol.I downloadable via Amazon.com:
Next up, in May 2011, it's time for . . . Soviet! Musical! Comedy!
Specifically, it's time for Cherry Town (Moskva, Cheryomushki) (1959) with music by Dmitri Shostakovich, a tale of housing shortages, petty bureaucrats, and true love in the workers' paradise.
This puckish satire of contemporary mores was sufficiently popular in the USSR that it was adapted to the screen not long after its premiere. From that version, let's meet those fresh-faced socialist love birds, Sasha and Masha, as they dream their dreamy dreams of an apartment of more or less their own:
The season concludes this time next year with David Lang's The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (2002), based on a one-page story written by Ambrose Bierce in 1909 in which a southern slave owner disappears into thin air while, yes, walking across a field. LBO's press release remarks:
Ironically in 1913, while moving with rebel troops in Mexico, Bierce himself vanished and was never found.
But there is a deeper mystery yet at work here . . . .
In the mid-1950s, a number of books and magazines published supposedly factual reports of an incident occurring on September 23, 1880, in which five witnesses described the vanishing of a man they knew into thin air while he was, yes, walking across a field. Those reports have since been consigned to the category of hoaxes and urban legend. There is some dispute whether rumors of the 1880 incident may have predated and inspired Ambrose Bierce's story, or whether the 1950s reports of the 1880 incident were themselves simply a retelling of Bierce's 1909 tale. What is undisputed is that the name consistently given to the man who vanished on September 23, 1880 is . . . David Lang.
David Lang the composer was not even born until 1957, which is to say that he did more appearing than disappearing in the '50s. He is one-third of the core of the Bang on a Can organization, and therefore one of the ruling eminences of the New York New Music world. He won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2008 for The Little Match Girl Passion. Difficulty was commissioned by American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and premiered there in 2002 with the Kronos Quartet as musical ensemble.
These excerpts come from a 2006 production at Montclair State University, in New Jersey:
Ah, southern Gothic.
No details have yet been shared on performers, production teams, etc., for next season, although it is a safe wager that principal conductor and LBO Artistic and General Director Andreas Mitisek will lead most if not all performances. There is no telling yet even which language(s) will be used: Long Beach tends to favor English translation (with supertitles), but Medea exists in French and Italian versions, Akhnaten incorporates Akkadian, ancient Egyptian and Biblical Hebrew (as well as English), and those merry Russians sing in, well, Russian.
What is clear at this early point is that the 2011 Long Beach Opera season is quintessentially LongBeachy: contemporary and/or little-seen works that can be expected to make for imaginative and compelling music drama. Wake me when December ends, so we can get started.
Photo: Akhenaten, in the museum at Alexandria, by Flickr user Andreuchis, used under Creative Commons License.