In eight alternately spare and almost sumptuous minutes of musicked storytelling, Boston Lyric Opera and associate producer Long Beach Opera debuted their eight-part serialized demi-pop opera desert in. Episode 1, “This House Is Now,” introduces two same-sex couples (male and female) at an archetypical western motel with suggestions of their baggage literal and figurative. Ubercomposer Ellen Reid, writer Kirsten Greenidge (overwriter christopher oscar peña set the parameters, for director James Darrah’s conjury of an intensely intimate grand guignol of sexuality and intrigue; a cliffhanger ending primes us for the next installment.
Behind the opening titles, a sad-eyed and artfully intense Ion (Raviv Ullman) apostrophized to the digital audience and his departed beloved, both in tight Zoomlike closeups and abstractly from a digitized 35mm contact sheet.
The first music sounds at 3:48. After a long fadeout, a mustached face appears in the rearview mirror of a truck in a somewhat painted desert to the accompaniment of wordless choral humming and orchestral riffs. A guy with combat boots — one on a prosthetic leg — exits truck and enters mysterious motel to vaguely oriental movie mystery music.
An electronic harpsichord motif announces female characters — no mistaking that they are avid lovers as well as clerks in the motel. The first operatic moment comes as Cass (Isabel Leonard) and Sunny (Talise Trevigne) love duet “Twenty years together, it never gets old” on camera. From the youthful appearance of the singers, they may have been 12 when they met.
Then the mustached dude with prosthesis gets his mail and, over suggestive violin obbligato, knowing glances and a clerk kiss imply shared secrets.
More mystery music over golden-hour repose before haunting tribal thrusts brings softcore coupling and beach blanket scenes that go far beyond Annette Funicello. Baritone (Edward Nelson) and tenor (Jesus Garcia) vocalize over or under the otherwise blessedly unvocalized male lovemaking. Voices of no clear gender (the “Vapors”) and multitrack orchestral swells evoke the climactic thoughts of the men, yet with ominous anticipations of loneliness and perhaps suicidal parting. Sometimes the offscreen voice of Edward Nelson intones Ion’s longings. The retrospective dream ends abruptly when the clerk seems, with surprising tenderness, to demand rent. Cass would “do anything to keep love safe.”
Before a long fadeout at 17:25, slashing-string cliffhanger gestures close segments as Ion remembers lost love, mingled with anger and angst.
Five minutes of endtitles follow. We have heard about eight minutes of music.
This first episode introduced the dramatis personæ plus the setting, leaving plenty of scope for development in subsequent episodes.
The video looks almost Hollywood-gauzy in its warmth. Shots cut and morph at a comfortable pace and the cameras appear steady. The Boston Lyric Opera Orchestra (violin, cello, flute, two percussionists, pianist) manage to establish coherent ensemble with some shaping. Kudos to clicktracks, distanced “conductor” David Angus, and music supervisor Vimbayi Kaziboni for making this minimalist picture score take on some richness. Daniel Neumann’s mixing and recording and Immersive Music Projects’ resonant but clear soundscape presented well through my large-ish computer speakers.
As an aperitif, Episode 1, “This House Is Now” whets our appetite for desert in’s subsequent courses. (HERE)
Also see BMInt’s feature HERE.
Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer