Saturday, May 19, 2012

From above Crescent City

Gyorgy Ligeti, Perez Prado, Benny Grunch, and Screaming Jay Hawkins walk into a bar, where On The Corner is playing on the jukebox (maybe Bruno Maderna comes along too). Not an exact metaphor for Anne LeBaron's Crescent City, but it's in the right direction. It's also not what one would expect when describing an opera, but that's what makes it interesting.

I've been looking at various stages of this music for quite a while. Timur & The Dime Museum (in which I write, arrange, and play accordion) has played excerpts at several The Industry fundraisers over the last year. The entire Dime Museum is in the orchestra (I'm playing accordion and chromelodeon), along with about 12 other fantastic musicians. I also helped Anne with some copying and orchestration. I remember seeing/hearing it in it's embryonic state as Wet in 2005 at REDCAT. It must be exciting to hear such a long-term project come together in such a fully realized version as this.

Anne LeBaron coined the term "hyperopera" long before I had met her, and I imagine this production fits squarely in that nebulous genre-space of the new. It is a fun piece to play. A wide collusion of styles, it sways between New Orleans jazz, Euro-centric modernism, Afro-centric drum grooves, industrial-tinged electronica, and more (you can read all about those sorts of things in the reviews, including the LA Times and Out West Arts). As such, the musicians necessary are the sorts that CalArts tends to pop out: people that know their traditional and extended techniques, and feel comfortable playing both written and improvised music.

The orchestra for Crescent City is hidden away in a loft above the stage. If you look above "the swamp" you might see the backside of conductor Marc Lowenstein's giant ictus. It is very hot up there, and I am very glad we aren't doing this in August. My personal nightly highlight comes from getting to play the Chromelodeon, on loan from Partch Ensemble maestro, John Schneider.

From my seat in the attic/pit, I can hardly see anything onstage. As the Chromelodeon is onstage in the "dive bar," I have to go downstairs to play it (it makes a too-brief cameo accompanying Timur Bekbosunov as Deadly Belle). This gives me a very brief chance to cool off and watch a little bit of the action. Since I have hardly SEEN any of the production, I can't make much of an informed comment on Yuval Sharon's stage direction, but the reviews talk about it in detail and the snippets I do manage to see are quite nice. I will say that I was taken aback the first time I entered the warehouse at the scale of the whole production. It feels very epic in there.

Anyway, you should go early and get a bite at Atwater Crossing. The food is fabulous. On opening night (when Timur & The Dime Museum played a 30-minute set AFTER playing the opera), the cafe provided a whole buffet of staggering deliciousness. The lamb slider I had that evening really topped the night perfectly, along with the Avery Belgian they had on tap. And during the show, check the texture of Timur Bekbosunov's outfit.

Crescent City runs this weekend and four nights next weekend. Come on down!

And finally, a confession: I am sometimes secretly imagining this song during Gwendolyn Brown's breathtaking solo aria:

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