LOS ANGELES — Migration and motherhood are just two timely themes embedded into the mobile chamber opera, "Birds in the Moon."
Created by Mark Grey and Júlia Canosa i Serra, and presented by the Broad Stage, the opera is having its West Coast premiere, not at The Broad Stage itself, but in a shipping container in a nearby parking lot, thanks to some clever stage tech.
What You Need To Know
- "Birds in the Moon" was created by Mark Grey and Júlia Canosa i Serra
- The mobile chamber opera is loosely based on a 17th century theory of birds migrating to the moon
- The four-night run will be performed in a parking lot near The Broad Stage
- Chad Owens designed the production’s “magic box” stage, which is a converted shipping container housing high-tech stage craft
Soprano Maria Elena Altany plays the Bird Mother opposite actor Austin Spangler. Although Altany's is the only singing role, she also created some unique bird sounds that stretch the limits of her vocal technique, allowing for greater expression.
The opera is loosely inspired by a 17th century theory of birds migrating to the moon and accompanied by string quartet. Altany points out that her character is more than just a bird.
“She is also a goddess, and she has power,” Altany said. “And that's such a wonderful balance.”
In telling this fantastical tale, "Birds in the Moon" looks at climate change, family separation and migration, as the two characters search for a better world. As Altany noted, these themes could not be more timely.
"We are not separate from that urge to migrate," she said. "We are part of it. And when we try and deny it, there's so much suffering."
Another star of the production, in fact, is the thing that makes the opera doable during a pandemic: the stage itself, which is a high-tech converted shipping container designed by Chad Owens. The performers work in, around and on top of the container that also houses electronics that control the sound and lights. It's the nerve center of the production, and because it's mobile and can be packed up, the production can move from place to place relatively easily.
Rob Bailis, The Broad Stage’s executive and artistic director, explained that the “magic box” stage also allows the performances to be done safely outdoors.
“I'm thrilled that we're able to do this out of doors, and that it just so happened that this piece, which actually we planned to present before the pandemic, can be presented this way, and that is the magic of what this particular box can do,” said Bailis. “It allows this whole story to have an incredibly epic sweep.”
Bailis added that mounting this production was also a morale-booster for The Broad Stage as they slowly get back up to speed with performances.
“Quite honestly, all of us just cried,” he said. “I mean, there was a level of relief and of excitement and of just the power of what we do that we've been missing.”
Altany said she has missed performing live as well, but over the past year, she has been keeping busy teaching. She loves working with her students, but it was also a matter of keeping the music going — which, to her, was essential.
“This is how I don't go through my day feeling numb, if I could just make music all day,” Altany said. “So it was truly about survival.”