The year was 1967, and Pierre Boulez, the famous conductor, felt strongly that modern operas should not be performed in traditional opera houses. His tongue-in-cheek solution? “Blow up all the opera houses,” he said, and use experimental theaters for experimental work.
He was kidding, but the man has a point—presenting opera in nontraditional spaces is thought-provoking and cool. And every season, BLO does just that—with the winter Opera Annex production, presented in a different, unique location each year outside the traditional opera house.
The inaugural Opera Annex production last year, Britten’s haunting The Turn of the Screw, was performed in the Park Plaza Castle. The audience sat on raised platforms, and the stage formed a long, narrow corridor. Video footage was projected on a large screen above the singers, including live feed of two of the opera’s characters performing a scene in the basement of the building—while other characters performed onstage. Using a found space is a great way to keep an audience rapt from start to finish—when theatrical boundaries as basic as time and space are challenged, anything can happen.
—While we’re waiting for opening night of this year’s Opera Annex, The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits, let’s check out another found-space opera productions:
Haydn’s Il Mondo Della Luna (The World on the Moon) at the Hayden Planetarium—NYC, 2010, by the Gotham Chamber Opera
Setting an opera about a fanciful trip to the moon at a planetarium seems like a no-brainer, and a clever way to bring together science and the arts. The Planetarium came equipped with a beautiful domed ceiling (no load-in necessary) and lots of starry video footage, but also came with its own daunting technical problems: for instance, regular theater lighting couldn’t be used—it would wash out the projections of stars on the ceiling. So, Ted Southern, an artist who also designs astronaut gloves for NASA, built lighting into the costumes.
- Audrey Chait, Brown University