Long Beach Opera (LBO) presents the co-world premiere of “The Invention of Morel,” by Stewart Copeland, co-founder and drummer of The Police, and the London-based actor, director and playwright Jonathan Moore, who also directs the production, on March 17 at the Beverly O’Neill Theater in Long Beach. LBO Artistic and General Director Andreas Mitisek conducts the opera. The opera is a co-commission by Long Beach Opera and Chicago Opera Theater, where the work had its co-world premiere on Feb. 18, 2017.
Based on Argentinian author Adolfo Bioy Casares’ 1940 novel La Invención de Morel, Copeland and Moore’s opera is at heart a love story. It’s also a sci-fi tale about a fugitive who arrives on a deserted island where tourists suddenly appear and disappear without warning. He falls in love with a woman (Faustine), but is unable to talk to her. He is invisible to everyone and struggles to find out what is happening and what the leader of this group, a scientist named Morel, has created.
“Music is the perfect way to create the effect of Morel’s invention of never-ending time loops. The feeling of reality going around and around is how music works and provides a way to represent the overlapping and contrasting realities of the story,” Stewart said in press materials. “I’ve got a pretty clear idea of how music can drive emotion, which is why I’m so keen on opera — it’s the most fun a composer can have with his clothes on.”
Jamie Chamberlin (Faustine) and Nathan Granner (Morel) star in the production. They have been workshopping the opera for three years with Copeland, Moore and Mitisek. While Granner was in the Chicago co-premiere last year, Chamberlin was performing “The Perfect American” at LBO. “I’m happy to finally be singing the role I workshopped for a few years!” Chamberlin said.
Soprano Chamberlin has sung with LBO, Chicago Opera Theater, Pacific Opera Project and the LA Phil. Her voice can be heard in the Coen Bros. film Hail Caesar! and as a Delos Recording Artist. Granner has performed with LBO, Chicago Opera Theater, Pacific Opera Project, Lyric Opera Kansas City, Opera Theater of St. Louis, Tulsa Opera, Wolf Trap and Glimmerglass Opera. He is a founding member of The American Tenors, whose Sony Masterworks album reached the top five in the classical crossover charts.
Culture Spot LA talked to Chamberlin and Granner to see why we all need to get down to Long Beach for this surreal, rockin’ 3-day-only event.
Culture Spot: Tell us about the music in this opera.
Nathan Granner: Stewart Copeland being a percussionist/drummer, this opera has very percussive elements. He does have a lyrical side. It wasn’t just Sting and Andy Summers writing the music in The Police. You can hear some of these harmonies and harmonic structures in the opera. There are really cool choruses, not only everybody singing, but also an offstage chorus highlighting the words that the narrator and fugitive are singing.
Jamie Chamberlin: There are moments of more of a rock sound in the opera, so you definitely get that Stewart Copeland signature, that exciting percussion with all the different colors. He also developed this kind of romantic musical language, you know, lyrical, traditional operatic lines. They’re beautiful. So you have this nice surprise from this rocker.
CS: What makes this opera a must-see?
NG: First of all, if one is an opera lover and in particular a new opera lover, this is one of those that you have to experience. This is not a “Barber of Seville.” You can see “Barber of Seville” anywhere in the world if you get on a plane. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things for right now. To hear the music and the mind of Stewart Copeland is quite a fantastic thing, I have to say. The music is beautiful, but the story is basically a murder mystery sci-fi movie on a deserted island. The scenes are like MTV, some are super quick, and this is all on a thrust stage, so you’re getting an MTV-style opera, though classical, in a regular theater.
JC: And the Beverly Neill Theater is actually an ideal theater for this production. Because when you’re in that theater, the audience is right there, actively a part of the performance, just from their being so close to the artists on stage. I can look out and see actual faces, and that is one of the things that I love about Long Beach Opera. Because of the arrangement of the theater, like an amphitheater, a thrust stage with three sides, you are almost acting in the round. I think it’s going to be a completely different world, a different soundscape, lightscape, landscape.
NG: Yes, and it’s all so visceral. The one thing that I hear when I do smaller opera gigs in nightclubs or places like that is that when you’re about five, 10 feet away, the voice is different, it hits you in your sternum, the sound envelops you. And not only is it the voice, there’s this nice size band behind it, 20 or 30 pieces. It’s not deafening loud though. And the story itself is its own character. It’s a bit like [the 2001 Christopher Nolan film] “Memento,” things are taken a bit out of time. And the piece is basically all about time. You don’t know where you are in the timeline of this piece until the end.
CS: I’m reading the book right now, so I’ve been avoiding anything written about the ending.
JC: Our director and librettist prefer that people just experience it for the first time and then go, Whoooooah!
CS: So, we’ll be blown away?
NG: Yes. Some of the best music out there is stuff that you have to listen to more than once. I think this is a two-view opera. … My mom is from Missouri and raises horses, she’s not on the sophisticated side of things, she just loves nature. She saw this piece for the first time and asked, What just happened? Then she came the second night and said, I totally understand it! It’s great! You can find new elements in this piece on every listen.
JC: As we’ve studied the score and learned our roles, we’re almost hearing these leitmotifs, these particular colors come through in the music, and we’re discovering them for the first time even though we’ve been with the piece for years. There are so many layers to this piece that make it really interesting. I’m really excited and enthusiastic about it. I think Stewart and Jonathan have done an incredible job taking this story, which is very complex and surreal, and making it into an opera.
CS: It’s great that it’s in Long Beach.
JC: Long Beach Opera has always been on the cutting edge of discovering new works and composers, fresh takes on how we approach the idea of “opera,” in quotation marks. Long Beach Opera is all about breaking that down, still honoring the tradition while moving in a future-thinking direction.
NG: I love the aspect that people can see great operas and hear great singers from all over the world at Long Beach Opera. We have a great ensemble going. So not only for opera lovers, but also for lovers of contemporary art, Long Beach Opera should be your home base.
CS: I saw “Frida” [see our review] last year and loved it.
JC: Frida Kahlo is a fabulous subject for an opera, and that’s exactly what’s great about championing new opera: we’re getting to tell these stories that really haven’t been told before. That’s really what’s it all about. Ultimately, it’s about telling a story. I think “The Invention of Morel” would be a great first modern opera for someone new to opera. People in their 20s and 30s will particularly enjoy it.
NG: Also people who love prog rock, new wave rock and roll from the ’80s and on. … I’m so happy to be a part of it! It’s like being in the next Police album. We’re part of the band!
JC: Doing studio work with Stewart too has been pretty surreal actually, and fun for us. Did anyone tell you we’re an engaged couple? It’s been so fun to be a couple and do these roles together. We talk about it on the way to work and the way home from work. We’re having a fully immersive experience right now.
CS: You’ve both performed with Pacific Opera Project [see a recent review], which is also, in a different way, bringing opera to a younger audience.
JC: We were in “Lucia di Lammermoor.” One of the things that made me eager to work with Pacific Opera Project was Lucia, a role I was dying to do, and also their attitude about advancing the way people see opera performed, how people think about opera, and bringing in a new audience.
NG: And treating the audience different too. You get a bottle of wine. It’s a less expensive Hollywood Bowl experience.
JC: They bring in excellent singers. It’s a direction that opera needs to evolve into in order to stay relevant as an art form. Nathan and I are extremely supportive of moving forward in our art form in a way that we can retain an audience and bring new people in and keep them interested. Opera is the ultimate form of storytelling. You have everything: you’ve got the story, the exceptionally trained singers that are basically Olympic-level athlete singers, and then you have the other elements like a new fresh take on the staging, setting it in a different time period.
NG: Like “The Abduction from the Seraglio,” a Mozart opera written in the 1780s, as “Star Trek.”
JC: Which [POP Artistic Director] Josh Shaw did. We really admire his creativity.
NG: The cool thing about opera is you can make then relevant to now. The 1700s? It’s still just about people. Our problems are the same problems people were having 300 years ago.
JC: We’re seeing the newer generation of opera supporters, patrons, attendees with Long Beach Opera and Pacific Opera Project, and it’s really fabulous that we have both these companies in LA. I’ve been able to build my career in LA in the last few years working with these companies who are innovating. We are looking to expand nationally and internationally, but how amazing it is to be in this hub of energy, which is what LA is. It’s happening everywhere, at the LA Phil, LA Opera, everyone is realizing that we have to take steps to expand our outreach. Nathan and I have our own children’s outreach program. We’ve gone to the Coachella Valley the last few years and brought opera to children who have never seen opera singers up-close and in person. This work is so important.
NG: Operas were created to bring a community together. Guiseppe Verdi composed a lot of his bigger works for the Carnevale in Rome or Milan for people to come together in the community. For anyone to say that opera is some elite form of entertainment, that’s fine to say, but these pieces were created as the opposite, for the people. Operas were the movies of the day.
PERFORMANCES: Saturday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 25, at 2:30 p.m.
VENUE: Beverly O’Neill Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach 90802
RUNTIME: 90 minutes, no intermission
PRE-OPERA ACTIVITIES: One hour before each performance, talk with Artistic and General Director Andreas Mitisek
TICKETS: $49 to $150
(562) 470-SING (7464) or https://itkt.choicecrm.net/templates/LBOP/index.php
Student Rush tickets for $15 will be available space permitting.