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New Opera West, the LA-based opera company with a mission to create and promote new works, is presenting a Pop-Up Opera @ Mimoda, showcasing five new mini-operas, November 16-17.
We spoke with NOW Co-Founders Emily Thebaut and Mark Lanz Weiser, about their call for new works, their love of comedic opera, and the company’s place in LA’s opera scene.
How does New Opera West fit into LA’s opera scene?
Emily Thebaut: Los Angeles has an incredibly vibrant and evolving arts scene, which makes it the perfect place to launch New Opera West. There are so many fantastic opera companies here that are doing really unique and avant-garde productions with the standard operatic repertoire and with new operas as well. We hope we can continue this trend of innovation within Los Angeles and make it a leading city in the promotion and creation of new music.
We were also interested in eclectic musical styles.
New Opera West is unique in that it seeks to promote the growth and professional development for new, up-and-coming composers, librettists and artists in the creation of new opera. We are creating performances that will be showcasing multiple composers within one show, presenting many diverse works around timely and relevant subject matter, that we hope, will work towards attracting new opera audiences and the general sustainability of opera in the 21st century.
What do you think makes for a successful world-premiere opera?
Mark Lanz Weiser: A successful world premiere depends on many factors. Most importantly it starts with the piece itself. The material should be compelling for everyone involved - performers and audience alike. The strength of any given piece is usually revealed fairly early in the process. Even a first run-through can indicate whether something is going to work or not.
Like other dramatic mediums, opera requires an interesting story, but also a clever libretto, and good music. These things will give the performers a lot to work with, but it is their responsibility to bring their characters to life with strong singing and acting.
“We really wanted scenes that were either comedies, or had humor as an important element of the scene.”
Beyond all of these factors, the final test is audience response. Were they moved? Did they enjoy the music? Often this can be felt during the performance itself. The audience laughs at the right places, or gets very quiet during tense dramatic moments, and, of course, the reaction after the performance has concluded all go along way in determining an opera’s success.
How did you choose the new operas for this Pop-Up event at Mimoda?
Mark Lanz Weiser: We had some specific technical requirements: the scenes were limited to two or four characters, about 10 minutes in length, with piano accompaniment only. It was also important that the scene is self contained dramatically. We had composers submit excerpts of larger operas, however we ended up choosing scenes that were conceived as stand-alone pieces.
Beyond that, we really wanted scenes that were either comedies, or had humor as an important element of the scene. We are really pleased that three of the five scenes are comedic. The one dramatic scene has a warmth to it and a profound emotional core that pairs nicely with the others.
We want these operas to captivate our audiences and create a more richer and meaningful experience for all involved.
We were also interested in eclectic musical styles. Two of them have styles closer to musical theater, one of them is a bit avant-garde, and another one lovingly skewers traditional opera. We are thrilled to present this diverse group of opera scenes.
What do you hope audiences will take away from hearing these short new operas?
Emily Thebaut: We hope that by providing our audiences with little snippets of five short operas (about 10-15 minutes in length), we can challenge their potential preconceptions of what opera and new music can be. I think we’ve done a really good job at creating a program that features diverse music, both in compositional style and in subject matter.
From an opera about a moose from the future who has come back to warn a couple about their impending catastrophe caused by their lack of care for the earth they live on, or an opera about Thomas Edison, a genius stifled by loneliness, we want these operas to captivate our audiences and create a more richer and meaningful experience for all involved.