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LA Opera Goes Downscale

December 22, 2020

Los Angeles Opera is offering more world-premiere work this year than in any season past. COVID restrictions have made big, lavish productions of Mozart and Verdi untenable, but opera on the small scale — shorter pieces, for a couple of musicians, unconventionally staged — is thriving. Case in point: two commissioning projects from LA Opera, with a total of 23 contemporary composers in the mix.

Earlier this month, LA Opera debuted its Digital Shorts series, showcasing new and adapted work from some of the big names in contemporary opera, in videos as much about the production as the music. Gabriela Lena Frank’s The Five Moons of Lorca, with a libretto by Pulitzer-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, was first, and it was a homecoming of sorts. The 12-minute piece, featuring countertenor Jacob Ingbar, pianist Nicholas Roehler, dancer Irene Rodríguez, and members of the LA Opera Chorus, was filmed at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, marking the company’s first return to the venue since cancellations in March.

That performance is available online and for free, through Dec. 25. Nine more Digital Shorts are slated for the season, including pieces by Matthew Aucoin, David Lang, and Anna Clyne, premiere dates to be announced.

Meanwhile, LA Opera is joining in with another commissioning project, this one from the leaders in new opera, the New York-based Prototype Festival. LA Opera and Prototype are co-presenting Modulation, a constellation piece that incorporates world-premiere works from 13 composers, online Jan. 8–16, 2021. The details are necessarily sparse; Prototype prides itself on being an experiment in opera. Music by L.A.-based vocalist Carmina Escobar features in the trailer for the piece, and a handful of composers with California connections — Sahba Aminikia, Juhi Bansal, Raven Chacon, Yvette Janine Jackson, and Jimmy López Bellido — are among the 13.

Certainly, LA Opera has a vested interest in the experiment. A number of company productions in recent years started life at the Prototype Festival: Ellen Reid’s prism, Du Yun’s Angel’s Bone (billed for spring 2020), and Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves (originally a mainstage event for 2021, soon to be a digital production). And unlike in years past, this online iteration of Prototype promises L.A. audiences a look at the new opera just around the corner.

The Prototype Festival, now in its ninth year, is a joint production from Beth Morrison Projects and HERE Arts Center. Tickets for Modulation are available from LA Opera.

Peter Feher is an editor at SFCV. He can be reached at [email protected].