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New L.A. Opera Company Hits with "Crescent City" Hurricane

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More "Eraserhead" than "Ernani" in its visceral impact, the world premiere of composer Anne LeBaron's challenging, discordant "Crescent City" introduces Los Angeles to its brand new opera company The Industry this month in Atwater Village.

The work is performed in and around six elaborate set pieces, each conceived by a different designer, strewn about a cavernous warehouse space in the Atwater Crossing arts complex. Most audience members sit or stand around the perimeter of the room, except for a dozen or two spectators who watch the action from a group of plush beanbag chairs situated in the middle of the performing space. No one vantage point has a direct view of all the action, but cast members themselves wield video cameras that project the events unfolding live on giant projector screens hanging from three of the walls. At a few points these screens also display pre-recorded exterior sequences.

The large newsprint fold-out program distributed at the venue entry contains an extensive summary and background notes on the story line of "Crescent City," which takes place in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. These explanations are very much worth reading before the performance begins, as the characters and events presented are deeply grounded in generally unfamiliar voodoo traditions and local histories. Production notes by LeBaron and director Yuval Sharon also provide a brief, critically helpful guide to the distinctive aesthetic and collaborative strategies that comprise what the production's creators have somewhat cryptically labeled a "hyperopera."

Musical performances are mostly very strong here, with especially fine singing from base-baritone Cedric Berry as the Good Man and, in the central role of the voodoo queen, contralto Gwendolyn Brown. Kazakh tenor (and occasional countertenor) Timur Bekbosunov nearly steals the show as drag queen Deadly Belle. Company music director Marc Lowenstein conducts an irregular orchestra with unmistakable elan.

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"Crescent City" plays at 8:00 tonight through Sunday night and Thursday through Sunday night again next week at the Atwater Crossing performance warehouse. Tickets $25-$75.