Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Shallow End

February 19, 2008

Todd Palmer and Elizabeth Futral
Photo: Long Beach Opera 2008
One thing that can be said about Long Beach Opera, LA County’s other significant opera operation, is that whatever they may lack in organization and dependability, they make up for with spunk. Take their most recent venture, a staged version of Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus and Euridice starring Elizabeth Futral which opened on Sunday. LBO director Andreas Mitisek has been on a bit of a kick lately, staging works in unusual spots around town including a recent run of Grigori Frid’s The Diary of Anne Frank in one of a number of parking structures. For Gordon’s Orpheus Mitisek has chosen to exploit the water themes by staging the whole thing in an indoor swimming pool – the Belmont Olympic Pool to be exact.

It’s a crafty idea that works as you might imagine from an opera staged in a swimming pool. The audience was seated on metal bleachers with cushions but luckily, the piece ran just an hour which is about as long as one healthy human can tolerate sitting in these circumstances. Local skate punks crashed and spun and did whatever else it is they do just outside the pool throughout the performance, creating some not so pleasant accompaniment. On the plus side, though, many of the visual elements of the piece were quite splendid due to the lighting effects designed by Dan Weingarten that took maximal advantage of the aquatic surroundings.

The work itself is more of a song cycle than an actual opera and more or less covers the standard version of the Orpheus myth. The work has premiered in other settings around the country, but LBO commissioned Gordon to orchestrate the piece for a small string quartet in addition to the original piano and clarinet to flesh out the sound a little more. Futral plays a narrator and sometimes voice of Euridice. Clarinetist Todd Palmer serves as Orpheus and, like Futral, alternately performs both at poolside and in a small white boat that is moved around the pool at times by a group of four “players” who include choreographer Ken Roht. Since Futral and Palmer have an awful lot of singing and playing to do which prevents them from getting wet, there are also two “doubles” who act out the Orpheus and Euridice parts in coordination with the musical content. All of this is accompanied by an expanded version of the Denali Quartet off to the side of the pool. There are also some videos of the principals projected above the opposite bleachers where Greek-inspired statuary were hanging out around artfully draped fabric. It can all be rather pretty to look at along the way.

Unfortunately, this was not the whole story. While Futral and Palmer’s performances are admirable for their quality and commitment, the material itself doesn’t quite live up to them. Gordon’s music is pleasant, but not much more substantial than much of what you would hear in the standard-issue Broadway musical. The libretto is both obvious and at points outright silly. He also oddly elects to spend over 30 minutes on the lovers meeting, walking on the beach, giggling, and doing all the things people do in TV movies to indicate that they are in love. The non-Oxygen Network events of the story don’t really get underway until the last ten minutes or so, creating an awful lot of build up for very little pay off. Apparently Gluck knew what he was doing when he opened his short opera on the same matter with the funeral. Still, all of this did take some guts and Mitisek and his crew can’t be faulted for trying to make a glorious theatrical event out of what might otherwise be just a meager song cycle.



I saw the 2/19/08 performance (closing night) and there were no skate punks outside. The cast and crew all jumped in the pool after their bows. I've competed at swim meets in that pool and will never look at it the same way again. River Styx, indeed.
his crew can’t be faulted for trying to make a glorious theatrical event out of what might otherwise be just a meager song cycle

They sure as hell can! What drugs are the people at LBO on, because I want to make a note to avoid them.

What's happened to this once interesting, vital company? Ever since they left the Center Theatre (understandable due to a lack of a pit) they were in, they've done dumbass things like stage operas in car parks and stage freakin' song cycles. There's dozens of operas that don't require the forces of Les Troyens out there that are begging for stagings and they're doing this nonsense. They could provide a real counterweight to Los Angeles Opera, doing contemporary works and older stuff deserving of a revival and instead they stage Strauss' Enoch Arden. Jeebus.

Can this really be the company that has done Death in Venice, From the House of the Dead, Pelleas and Szymanowski's glorious King Roger, now cavorting around in fucking swimming pools? Wow.
I second Henry Holland's comment, except I would say hundreds and not dozens of alternatives for a small company with an adventurous spirit but limited resources. I went to almost every production at LBO for over 15 years - but nothing they have done recently is of the slightest interest. I would be interested in learning how they identify their "base" nowadays. Nobody I know goes or donates anymore.
I would say hundreds and not dozens of alternatives for a small company with an adventurous spirit but limited resources

Haha, I actually typed in "hundreds" originally but I thought "Uh oh, what if I get called on that to actually name them?" so I reduced the sampling size. :-)

I too would love to know what the base they're targeting is. I don't know if the marketing slogan "An Opera Company Doing Not-Operas For People Who Don't Like Opera" would quite be the ticket! Like you, Anon., none of my friends go any more--I think the last thing we all went to was the Jenufa a few years back.
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