The challenges to operatic convention keep coming. We’ve seen animated opera, opera as TV series, drive-through opera in a parking garage, opera in a limo tour of Los Angeles, and all kinds of offbeat projects and now Opera Parallèle is adding one more: an animated graphic novel version of Joby Talbot and Gene Scheer’s Everest, conceived and directed by OP’s creative director, Brian Staufenbiel.
The opera almost seems to have been designed for graphic novel treatment, dealing, as it does with a famous mountain-climbing disaster in 1996, memorialized in Beck Weathers’s account, Left for Dead. Its humans-against-the-elements theme is balanced by interwoven scenes with the families of the climbers.
Everest had a successful premiere at The Dallas Opera in 2015, where it was conducted by Nicole Paiement, who is both Dallas Opera’s principal guest conductor and OP’s general and artistic director. Paiement was on the podium again for the staging in 2017 at Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and will conduct it in 2022 with the BBC Symphony in a concert version.
Amazingly, Opera Parallèle had begun experimenting with the idea of a graphic novel/opera production before that, in 2013. Staufenbiel and his team tested their concept with specially commissioned illustrations projected during live performance. That led to further refinements and, eventually, a proof-of concept video during the shutdown last summer. “Opera Parallèle has been waiting for the right time to bring this genre-bending approach to opera to fulfillment. Now is the time, and Everest is the opera and story for the very first graphic novel opera film,” said Staufenbiel.
Paiement added, “Rather than focusing on what we couldn’t do because of the pandemic, we imagined what we could do. Opera Parallèle is all about telling remarkable stories in new ways, so I’m thrilled that the company is able to add a new dimension to the story of Everest, moving it from the stage into the imaginative world of the graphic novel opera.”
Staufenbiel and his collaborators, illustrator Mark Simmons and cinematographer David Murakami, begin with recordings of the singers, followed by “emotion capture,” which is the basis of the characters’ visual development. Like mo-cap, the singers’ facial expressions are translated into the animated graphic world.
The cast members are all veterans of world premieres and include Sasha Cooke, Nathan Granner, Kevin Burdette, and Hadleigh Adams. They won’t need to get into costume for this gig, but they are going to be literally in character.