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Los Angeles opera company is filling a need for experimentation

The new production by Los Angeles company The Industry, 'Crescent City,' is a promising glimpse into what musical innovation can accomplish.

By Daniel Wood / November 2, 2011

'Crescent City' director Yuval Sharon says The Industry will be open to incorporating other artistic disciplines as it creates new opera productions.

Courtesy of The Industry

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In spite of the seemingly hopeless terrain in which classical musicians attempt to carve a life, there is a faint but steady glimmer of hope trying to gain momentum in southern California.

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It takes the form of an opera company, though an unorthodox one at that, called The Industry. It launched last March, and, about a week ago, had its Visual Artist Launch at Los Angeles' iconic Barnsdall Art Park.

The company’s first production, composer Anne LeBaron’s "Crescent City," and the company itself seem inextricably linked: the essence of Ms. LeBaron’s term ­"hyperopera" is an instance of the nature of The Industry’s infrastructure and vice versa, says director Yuval Sharon, who worked as assistant director on L.A. Opera's mammoth "Ring Cycle" last season.

“At the heart of The Industry is a belief in opera as the first and ultimate interdisciplinary art form," Mr. Sharon said. "Each of our productions will aim to investigate the process of creating productions with a maximum degree of openness to new artistic disciplines.”

Hyperopera is a postmodern resuscitation of Wagner’s grandiloquent Teutonic notion that he called Gesamtkunstwerk. What Wagner meant by Gesamtkunstwerk, and what he wanted to achieve in producing his epic mega-operas (think heavy vibrato, German ladies, and Viking gear), was a synthesis of all art forms -- that is, the theatrical, the visual, and the musical. He believed the sum of these parts would exceed the potential of any solo effort. Hyperopera works largely under the same pretenses but, as you can imagine, the gamut of available arts to synthesize and ways to synthesize them is exponentially bigger and more complex than in Wagner’s day.

 Also, if truth be told, Wagner’s notion was not entirely democratic, and this is where LeBaron and The Industry come in.

“In hyperopera, we are still after the total experience, but we go about it in a way that strives to maintain the autonomy of the individual artist," Sharon, who seems to have a deep understanding of the meaning of opera and his goals for the Industry, says. "The process is less hierarchical and more collaborative than the traditional sense of Gesamtkunstwerk, but we are after a similar unification of the disparate arts at play.”

Wagner would have preferred if everything were synthesized in service to the music, but in hyperopera, the expectation is that everybody involved -- musicians, fine artists, choreographers, actors, etc. -- has their eye on everybody else, and together, something truly formidable is produced.

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