Gwendolyn Brown as Marie Laveau in The Industry's production of Crescent City
Premiering this Thursday, May 10 in an Atwater Village warehouse is what's likely Los Angeles' first ever hyperopera. Crescent City is the debut production by The Industry, a new Los Angeles opera company, and it combines the talents of composer Anne LeBaron, librettist Douglas Kearney and director Yuval Sharon.
Crescent City is an almost biblical story of redemption and chaos backed by experimental music, visual art installations, and a one-of-a-kind audience experience where viewers are free to go almost wherever they like. Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson visited the set just before rehearsal.
Director Yuval Sharon explained that he enlisted the help of six visual artists to transform the 25,000 square foot warehouse space into Crescent City, which is loosely based on New Orleans.
The story takes place after the mythical city has been mostly destroyed by a hurricane.
"There are very few people left in the city, and everything's been basically ravished by the storm," he explained. "A year later, another hurricane is coming, Hurricane Charity, and this one is really going to wipe the city off the map."
A voodoo priestess offers herself as a sacrifice to the voodoo gods in return for the safety of the city. They agree on the condition that they can find one decent person among the degenerates, prostitutes and drug dealers living there.
"This is kind of an opera in which the opera is happening around you on all sides," Sharon described. Audience members can chose viewing the world of Crescent City from four different perspectives.
"You can have one fixed seat ... You can also have a seat within one of the installations, that's a bean bag chair created around the dive bar, and that's a fully immersive experience, where it's really just happening right around you," Sharon said. "You can also sit just outside the world and remove from it and perch up on an 8-ft platform ... We call that the 'Skybox,' kind of jokingly. And the final perspective is having the ability to walk freely around the entire space, whenever you want."
Composer Anne LeBaron said that similarly to the visuals, the opera's music also takes a contemporary flair.
"I would like an audience to think 'Oh, I never knew opera could be like this.' Or to think, 'Oh, this is a new form that blends more of a popular side of music or vernacular with contemporary musical techniques, with a big band sound, with some lyricism. It's really another kind of animal," she said.
She added that familiar instruments like the trombone, tuba and trumpet will produce an undeniably New Orleans-influenced sound.
"I just love the music from that area – it's in my blood. My father was a musician," she recalled.
According to LeBaron, the music for the opera coincidentally came together with New Orleans' hurricane tragedy. "It just so happened that when I was writing the opera that became Crystal City, [Hurricane] Katrina struck. One of the things that really struck me after the tragedy was how much press came out about 'Do we really need to save a city like this?' And I'm talking about periodicals like The New Yorker," she said.
Sentiments like those, LeBaron added, fueled the opera's story.
"It didn't occur to me to write an opera based on the story that we now have. But, these kinds of injustices were really outrageous and of course that affected not only how I wrote the music, but how the story came together for our opera," she said.