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Experiencing Opera Online, Underground


Aliana de la Guardia (by Timothy Gurzak)

The Guerilla Underground, “a virtual speakeasy experience and performance series” explores the “operatic” in the form of monthly live streams and video on demand options that can include encore broadcasts from live performances, new works interpreted through the mediums of film and animation, invigorating musical concerts, and previews of works in development for both stage and screen. Each live stream event is directly followed by an After Party with artist Q&A, games and giveaways!

In addition to the best of Guerilla Opera’s most recent productions, the company will present “Official Selections” from an inaugural Call-for-Videos. Guerilla Opera asked for cutting-edge work that investigates and explores themes that are “operatic” and that features musical compositions from 1975 or later and artists and/or creators that identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, women, disabled, or other underrepresented groups.

Artists from all over the world submitted video performances to be featured in The Guerilla Underground 2022 Season. These were adjudicated Emily Koh (composer), Lilit Harunian (violinist and ensemble member, Guerilla Opera), Geovonday Jones (director), Daniel Reza Sabzghabaei (دانیال رضا سبزقبایی) (composer), Mike Williams (percussionist, co-founder and ensemble member, Guerilla Opera), and Kristen Hoskins (producer), and with Aliana de la Guardia (Artistic Director, Guerilla Opera) making the final selections. Rumpelstiltskin is streaming now, and The Cellos’ Dialogue begins on February 11th. Click HERE for a summary, and HERE for tickets.

We had and interesting conversation with Aliana de la Guardia, Artistic Director II Ensemble II Guerilla Opera.

FLE: Guerilla Opera is about to celebrate a 15th anniversary that makes you about the same age about the same age as the Intelligencer… your company… I don’t mean you, personally. [LAUGHTER]

AG: Uh huh. I’m very much older than 15, yeah.

And you said Guerilla Opera is one of Boston’s most thrilling young companies. At 15, you’re one of the older companies now, actually. [LAUGHTER]

We were fairly young when we started Guerilla Opera. We’re still pretty young now. I would like to think.

But there are not so many Boston opera companies that are much older. Companies come and go, and you guys have been around a long time. So you’re really middle aged as far as longevity of the company is concerned. But you’re not middle aged if your concept is still to grab us by our lapels (or frocks).

That’s important. but it depends on the composer, and it depends on what we do. We certainly would do something a little bit more aggressive. As you said, we are older, and so maybe we’re becoming calmer, but certainly not in the way we preform, and certainly not in what we like to present to an audience in terms of their experience.

Our second review of GO came in 2010, Heart of a Dog. And I don’t think you’ve done anything since that’s broken breaking the fourth wall so blatantly. How often are audiences likely to be spattered with blood in your productions these days?

[LAUGHTER] We’ve done several productions that have been pretty outrageous, Petr Solis was very intense, and we’ve done several immersive productions, such as our recent Ellis at the Old South Meeting House, but not necessarily in the same sort of blood and gore. That one definitely had a themed B-movie horror feel. But our shows change depending on the composers and their voices. Guerilla Opera is malleable in that way.

But there’s some implication in the name of the group that shocking and confronting audiences is important to you.

It’s great to do that as well. It can be just taking an audience out of their usual sit and watch, and to kind of allow them to participate, in a way, and become personally connected to the music, whether that’s being up close and just being in an intimate environment, or actually moving them through environment.

Yeah, you have done that a couple of times in unusual locations. Right?

We were in residence at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee for a really long time, and for a lot of that time, we were re-envisioning the use of the Black Box space. And since 2018, we’ve done different things in different spaces. But the main performances, the live ones, have been most recently, and that was in the Old South Meeting House for our re-envisioning the use of that space, and in the Museum of Science, although that was a little bit more of a conventional proscenium performance, though the work itself was very progressive.

It is our goal to re-envision the audience’s relationship to the music. Whether or not they’re just sitting or moving around, they are always going to be in an intimate space where they can have a really personal relationship to the music. For example, our show at the Museum of Science was a conventional proscenium performance, but it was very contemporary, and the music very experimental. Gauging an audience’s comfort level is something that we do as well. When we’re presenting something that’s very challenging, we’re taking the audience’s comfort into account as well.

Do you ever issue trigger warnings?

Yes, of course. If there’s violence and stage combat, we make sure to say so. If we’re doing flashing images or lights, we make sure to disclose that as well, and if an audience is going to move through a piece, we always make sure that they know that they’re going to be standing and moving, and that we can make some accommodation for accessibility.

I’ll never forget going with my grandmother 40 years, 50 years ago, to a production of Marat/deSade. I sat in the front row with my grandmother; she wasn’t a prude, but she didn’t like it when one of the actors reached up her skirt. [LAUGHTER] I don’t that happens much anymore, that kind of confronting an audience.

When it comes to that kind of participation and that kind of incorporating of the audience, interactive theater is very tricky, and you want people to know that they are choosing to participate, as opposed to whether they’re being forced or implicated in some sort of participation without necessarily their choice. That’s a very important thing to consider with planning interactive or even immersive shows. And there is a difference between interactive and immersive. Immersive is just being in the environment. Interactive is actually interacting with the environment. That’s a pretty important distinction, especially to know when you’re planning a production.

You don’t ever want your audiences to sing, do you? [LAUGHTER]

We haven’t done that yet, but I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed.

Right. I can imagine a production of Meistersinger ending with everyone in the audience singing the hymn of the German people. But there’s got to be some contemporary equivalent of that where you get everyone participating in something that we all know.

Certainly there’s an equivalent to that. I don’t know if that’s a good direction for Guerilla Opera; we do things according to the composer’s voice. But we wouldn’t be opposed.

So is it fair to say that you’ve never done a reduction of a larger opera, that all of your operas are written for the resources that you have available?

It is our mission to commission new operas specifically for our ensemble. We have only on one occasion done a work that has been premiered already, and that was also a very contemporary work. We do exclusively and only contemporary work.

And never reductions or transcriptions.

No, we very specifically commission chamber opera, and we’re very explicit with our composers that we do not want orchestral reductions. We want real chamber music for our ensemble.

And what’s the range of size of your chamber group?

The usual size of our chamber group is four singers and four instrumentalists. And if that changes, it’s generally to get smaller.

So what makes it opera?

For me, opera is when the music the main catalyst for the drama and the action of the story, and it is that simple in terms of the storytelling. We produce things that we call opera that actually have just spoken word and music, or something that someone may interpret it more as a theater piece, which is with heavy electronics. For us, it’s really examining the art form and taking it apart and saying, “That was opera 200 years ago. What can opera be now?”

Opera can be more than just grand opera. That’s a very conventional view of the art form. In order to move the art form forward, we have to expand its definition. We have to expand how we see it. We have to expand how we experience it. And we have to expand the repertoire in order to tell stories that matter to the people who are writing opera today.

I’m reading the review that we had published in 2009, and it says, “The well-named Guerilla Opera, founded in 2007, aims to subvert the 19th-century grandiosity of opera by focusing on short works in small spaces that are tightly organized by singers, orchestra and direction.” This is apparently still a good summary.

That really is our mission, and we have not departed from it in 15 years. That really is our goal.

But you’re not always ferocious. Of course neither is the namesake beast. Sometimes you’re lyrical, too. Troubled Waters, for instance, wasn’t scary at all.

Ferocious doesn’t necessarily mean aiming to scare. It means attacking with a lot of energy, and that’s certainly what we try to do.


So tell me about what you’re doing in your 15th anniversary, January 14th to May.

The Guerilla Underground is a monthly streaming series of new work which starts with some we originated, and it ends with some from members of our community that submitted in response to a call for videos. A panel of peers adjudicated them, and I’m really excited about the works that were selected. I believe that they really are incredible. They showcase a lot of composers that are women, a lot of works from people who are gender diverse, women of color, talking about all different kinds of topics that are really relevant today.

There are five live-streamed events, each of which runs 15 to 17 minutes. From over 20 submissions we selected five. Two of the live streams are Guerilla Opera productions. Three come from the “Official Selections”

How high will the production values be? Are some going to look Zooms from people’s homes or are these all fully produced?

They’re all fully produced. None of them are Zooms from people’s homes.

We opened the submissions to everyone, and to anyone that wanted to submit anything, and I just made it clear the kind of submissions that we were looking for HD-quality recordings; it could also be a virtual album. It could be a recording from a live performance. It could be a kind of a genre-bending work that is half-live, half-online. We issued some pretty clear guidelines before people submitted.

How do you sign up?

You buy tickets HERE to attend. You can get single show tickets and just attend one show. But you can also buy a ticket bundle and attend all the shows, and you get to pick the different ticket tiers.

Each live stream has an after party. How does that work for us at home?

We gather afterwards via Zoom, there’ll be an artist Q&A, and then we’ll play a game together, and the games have prizes that are sponsored by various businesses like PARMA Recordings and Alvas Candles.

Last words?

Speaking of 15 years ago, we’re also releasing a studio album on Navona Records of one of our first commissioned operas. We commissioned Rumpelstiltskin in 2009, and we recorded it 2019. That process slowed down by COVID, but we’re releasing the album next Friday, the 14th.

Last weekend we celebrated the release by pairing the CD with animation.

BMInt reviewed it HERE.

Underground Season

Guerilla Opera’s Rumpelstiltskin by Marti Epstein
on January 14 at 7:30 P M

The Cellos’ Dialogue (Official Selection)
on February 11 at 7:30

The Colony (Official Selection)
on March 11 at 7:30

Guerilla Opera’s Papillon and Salt
on April 18 at 7:30

Quaking Aspen, Interim, and she wears bells (Official Selections)
on May 13 at 7:30

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