It’s amazing how much of our experience of the world is predicated on expectation. I can’t count the number of comedies I’ve been disappointed by because I’d heard how amazing they were, and how many events I’ve loved because I hadn’t been expecting much. Crescent City, the first production from The Industry, LA’s new opera company, suffers from this unfortunate effect of impossibly high expectations. It is, however, a pretty astounding accomplishment, full of wonderfully lively and interesting music, sung by top notch voices, a bold statement for a company’s first production, and definitely worth seeing before it closes at the end of this weekend. Just don’t read too much about it beforehand.
The story is set in a sort of surreal, post-apocalyptic (read: post-hurricane) New Orleans. With another hurricane on the way, it’s up to a resurrected voodoo priestess to prove to Baron Samedi and the other voodoo gods that the city is worth saving, by finding one good person left in it. While certain tropes throughout felt a bit exploitative of what, to many people, was a personally horrific tragedy, the setting created a space where the music made perfect sense, as strains of big band jazz, electronica, and cabaret were successfully mashed into a wildly original contemporary classical type score from Anne LeBaron. The music was, in every way, a complete triumph.
As were the voices. I’d read elsewhere that Timur Bekbosunov’s numbers performed in a dive bar setting in drag were not to be missed, and, well, everyone is right. This guy’s voice seems like it can do just about anything, and it’s at once bracingly powerful and delicately controlled, even while twirling in high heels. The cast seemed perfectly picked for their roles, and bass/baritone Cedric Berry’s was, in my opinion, the real treat of the night. His tone balanced clarity, smoothness, warmth, and power near-perfectly, and I certainly hope we hear a lot more of him in the future.
As to the expectations, this production is billed as a hyperopera, bringing together artists from a zillion disciplines in an immersive opera experience. Yes, there were six art installation sets, and yes, you could take advantage of multiple points of view. I was expecting, however, to be able to walk freely throughout the warehouse that this thing is staged in, and interact in some way with the actors, and have some say in what I paid and didn’t pay attention to. Perhaps its too much time spent playing Mass Effect, but the whole thing felt far too linear to be considered a new form of the art. The six installations melded into one big set, and, walking around only on the perimeter, it felt more or less like a traditional opera, simply staged in the round. Go in expecting a normal, run of the mill show, and I think you’ll be far more impressed. In any case, I’m glad to have a new game in town, and am excited to see what The Industry pull together next.