Long Beach Opera Becomes San Pedro Opera (Unofficially)

  • 01/08/2015
  • Reporters Desk

By John Farrell, Theater Writer

They’ve been everywhere.

One opera was performed in the water (and we mean in the water) at the Belmont Shore Olympic Pool, which has seen both international competition and day-time exercise swimmers. It was repeated. (That was Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus and Eurydice.)

Another was given in two different parking garages, to great success (Grigori Frid’s The Diary of Anne Frank was that subterranean work.)

They have performed in San Pedro, too, most recently The Fall of the House of Usher in 2013 at the Warner Grand.

But for their 2015 season, which begins Jan. 21, with the first of two performances of Tobias Picker’s searing Thérèse Raquin at the Warner Grand, they have transformed themselves, at least unofficially, into San Pedro Opera. All three of their season performances this year take place not in Long Beach, but in San Pedro, with Marilyn Forever by Gavin Bryars set for the Warner Grand March 21 and 29, and Hydrogen Jukebox by Phillip Glass set for May 30, June 6 and 7 at Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles.

“We have always performed everywhere,” said the Long Beach Opera’s Artistic and General Director Andreas Mitisek in a recent phone conversation. “We recently performed at the Ford Theatre (in Los Angeles) and this season we just announced that our final opera is going to be in the Crafted warehouse in San Pedro.”

Not to worry, though, Mitisek said.

“It is still typical Long Beach Opera.”

That means something. Long Beach Opera likes to call itself “the oldest and the youngest opera company in Los Angeles.” The first half is technically true: Long Beach Opera was founded in 1979 to celebrate the opening of the Terrace Theater in Long Beach. It was then called the Long Beach Grand Opera. Within four years the company had decided to explore opera of a different sort: works that were musically profound but also challenged opera-goers with new and original visions.

After 25 years at the job, General Artistic Director and Long Beach Opera founder Michael Milenski retired and Mitisek took over in 2003, continuing the tradition established by Milenski and covering not just new works but old works as well. Those productions include not only works like Vivaldi’s Motezuma, Glass’ Ahknaten and John Adams’ Nixon in China but the still-controversial The Death of Klinghoffer, also by Adams, and the first performance of Wagner’s Ring cycle, all four operas, in Los Angeles.

Mitisek has long had a tradition of using unusual and distinctive venues for his productions. This time the first two operas: Thérèse Raquin and Marilyn Forever are both being staged in the historic Warner Grand, where Long Beach Opera has often been performed.

“I like the Warner Grand,” Mitisek said. “It is one of the last great movie palaces around. Our audience certainly enjoys seeing the opera there and it is in a great neighborhood that is up and coming.”

The Warner is not without its difficulties, a shallow stage being just one.

“Yes, it does have its problems, but we have learned to use it effectively,” Mitisek said.

Three operas, Duke Ellington’s Queenie Pie, Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires and Phillip Glass’ The Fall of the House of Usher, have already been done there by the Long Beach Opera. The company has already begun rehearsals for the next opera but won’t move to the Warner for two weeks.

Thérèse Raquin has music by Tobias Picker, one of the most successful of contemporary opera composers and a book by Gene Scheer. It is based on Emile Zola’s 1867 novel, which scandalized Paris. It tells the story of a young woman who is forced into a marriage but falls in love with an old friend. Their relationship turns from the ethereal to madness after they kill her husband. The work has been lauded for its music.

After playing at the Warner that production will travel, with sets, artists and all, to Chicago, where Mitisek was recently appointed artistic director of the Chicago Opera Theater. Mitisek doesn’t mind weather. He’s originally from Vienna.

“I like the cold,” he said. “I look forward to a little snow.”

Each of the three production Long Beach Opera is doing this year will also be seen in the windy city. He’s also a star in Chicago, where this past year he was named Chicago Classical Musician of the Year by The ChicagoTribune.

“It’s a great endorsement of what we do here in Long Beach and a great endorsement of what we do on a national stage,” he said.

In March, Long Beach Opera returns to the Warner for their production of Marilyn Forever, a very different opera from Thérèse Raquin, with music by Gavin Bryars and a libretto by Marilyn Bowering. This production is a United States premier of the work that tells Marilyn Monroe’s story in a series of flashbacks, told by the men in her life who never understood her.

The final Long Beach Opera production this year is in a very different space, Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles.

“It’s a fabulous space for us to use,” Mitisek said. “It’s going to be a happening set-up with performers all around rather than as a proscenium staged opera. It takes us from the 50s to the 70s, from flower power to the Vietnam War.”

The music is by Philip Glass, and text is taken from the poetry of Alan Ginsburg.

Tickets for Thérèse Raquin are $29 to $160, with subscribers to the season getting a discount. Performances are Jan. 24 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 1 at 2:30 p.m.
Details: (562) 432-5934; www.longbeachopera.org
Venue: Warner Grand Theatre
Location:  478 W. 6th St., San Pedro

Tickets for Forever Marilyn are $29 to $160. Performances are March 21 at 8 p.m. and March 29 at 2:30 p.m.
Details:(562) 432-5934; www.longbeachopera.org
Venue: Warner Grand Theatre
Location:  478 W. 6th St., San Pedro

Tickets for Hydrogen Jukebox are $49 to $160. Performances are May 30 at 8 p.m., June 6 at 2:30 and 8 p.m., and June 7 at 7 p.m.
Details:(562) 432-5934; www.longbeachopera.org
Venue: Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles
Location: 112 E. 22nd St., San Pedro

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