By John Farrell, Curtain Call columnist
The Warner Grand in San Pedro was built for movie premiers.
In its long and sometimes illustrious career, it was home, at least for a few hours, to some big Hollywood celebrities.
But as far as anyone can figure out, Marilyn Monroe was not one of them.
That will change March 21, when Long Beach Opera presents Marilyn Forever, an opera by Gavin Bryars with a libretto by Marilyn Bowering, at the Warner Grand. There will be a second performance on March 29 at 2:30 p.m.
This is the work’s U.S. premier. It comes only two weeks after it was performed in Adelaide, Australia at the Adelaide Festival. It had its world premier in Victoria, British Columbia in 2012.
The Long Beach Opera is having two women play the part of Marilyn–soprano Jamie Chamberlin as the on-stage Marilyn, and mezzo-soprano Danielle Marcelle Bond as the off-stage, introspective Marilyn.
That’s a change from the other productions, a change in concept for this production by artistic and general director Andreas Mitisek. Bill Linwood is conducting the nine-piece orchestra and jazz combo, whose bass player is composer Gavin Bryars.
“This opera is a blank slate of sorts,” Mitisek said in a phone interview. “It’s the kind of production we often do, where we have to create a new work from just the score and libretto. That’s why we have two Marilyns–Jamie Chamberlin as the starlet Marilyn, and Danielle Marcelle Bond as the private one, the one alone in her bedroom, the one who is often overlooked in this story.”
Marilyn Monroe’s life story is public domain. We know she was not just the platinum blonde trope she played in her iconic films, but was raised by a mentally ill, single mother. Married at 16, she was a successful model before becoming a film starlet. Though she played a “dumb blonde” often enough, she was actually an intellectual. She was also a lonely person who never found the affection and love she needed. Her early death, which some believe to have been a suicide, carved her legend in stone.
Bryars approached this work through the poetry of Marilyn Bowering, whose lyrical take on Monroe is heard in English in the opera. Bryars’ score is a mixture of jazz tunes, played on stage by a trio, and a sad, noir-like musical appreciation of Monroe’s lonely life.
“Our approach to this work is different from others,” Mitisek said. “We use a live camera on stage, since this was all about film. It is a fun way to play Marilyn as she is being filmed and [it] also gives us a chance to focus on details. We blend live performance with the live feed.
“This is a poetic approach, a way to shine an emotional light on aspects of her life that were important to her, especially her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller. Everyone wanted to be with her but she never found anyone she wanted to be with.”
Tickets range from $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