Long Beach Opera Presents DESERT IN, Co-Produced With Boston Lyric Opera

desert in – which takes place at a mysterious motel in a desolate location, welcoming guests desperate to reclaim lost loves.

By: Jun. 26, 2021
Long Beach Opera Presents DESERT IN, Co-Produced With Boston Lyric Opera

Long Beach Opera's new Artistic Director James Darrah harnesses award-winning HBO writers, Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur Fellowship winning composers, and Grammy- and Tony-nominated performers are redefining the future of the operatic medium. desert in, created by Darrah and collaborators, is a groundbreaking, eight-part operatic mini-series full of colorful and mysterious characters who populate a supernatural story of love, loss and the price of memories we struggle to keep. The episodic series is streaming on operabox.tv on demand.

desert in - which takes place at a mysterious motel in a desolate location, welcoming guests desperate to reclaim lost loves -- is co-created by Long Beach Opera Artistic Director, film and opera director James Darrah, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Reid (p r I s m), and playwright and screenwriter christopher oscar peña (Jane the Virgin, Insecure).

desert in is commissioned and produced by Boston Lyric Opera, and produced in association with Long Beach Opera.

Heidi Waleson of The Wall Street Journal said that "desert in represents an extreme deconstruction of opera's familiar tropes. A highly original marriage of opera and series television [in which] music, text and cinematography are inextricably entwined. The design work is central to the series' hallucinatory atmosphere."

Waleson continued, "I hope that producers will not forget about the enormously innovative and creative work in digital media that has enlivened these locked-down months and revolutionized ideas about what opera can be. James Darrah is experimenting and forging a new art form."

Jennifer Rivera, Long Beach Opera Executive Director and CEO, said, "James has harnessed a creative team from the worlds of opera and television -- eight composers, eight writers, and several directors along with himself -- into creating something that has literally never been seen or heard before. James had to move between directing scenes where the singers were performing their roles live and scenes where the actors were finding their beats within a pre-recorded soundtrack. Unlike live opera performance which can at times be broad, singers and actors here have to be intimate and nuanced for the cameras, which James carefully helped shape and craft - all in 15-hour days on the set, sometimes in 100 degree heat."

Rivera continued, "LBO is proud to have had a chance to co-produce this LGBTQ-positive story, featuring a very diverse group of collaborators spanning multiple disciplines. It feels like exactly the right thing to be making at this moment. And the gorgeous, evocative, moving, astonishing piece of cinema-music-theater that has emerged takes my breath away."

Told in eight episodes ranging from 10 to 20 minutes each, the story of desert in revolves around two couples: Cass and Sunny, the innkeepers at a remote motor lodge called the Desert Inn, who are celebrating a milestone anniversary; and new guests Ion and Rufus, who are celebrating their honeymoon. Cass and Ion harbor secrets from their lovers, and money exchanges hands to ensure everyone's happiness.

At the heart of the Desert Inn is the shimmering, oasis-like pool, where parties take place, furtive liaisons happen, and mounting tensions have unnatural effects on the water. Among the other colorful characters who stay or work at the Inn are a witchy Lounge Singer, a mysterious handyman named Federico with secret passions of his own, and an Old Man who yearns to reconnect to his past.

Unexpected romances, shamanic rituals, and a roiling spiritual world surround the motor lodge. As the Inn's money-for-memories scheme starts to unravel, friends and lovers become enemies, details become fuzzy, and guests check out in surprising ways. Fiery passions bring the story to an explosive end.

COMPOSERS (in alpha order):

  • Michael Abels, a composer/producer who scored Jordan Peele's Academy Award-winning films Get Out and Us. The hip-hop-influenced Us score won the World Soundtrack Award and the Jerry Goldsmith Award, received a Critic's Choice Award nomination, and was called "Score of the Decade" by The Wrap. Abels is co-composing an opera, Omar, with Carolina Chocolate Drops founding member Rhiannon Giddens.
  • Grammy-nominated composer, jazz pianist and MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship Award-winner Vijay Iyer, who has released two dozen jazz albums leading various musical groups, including the critically acclaimed Historicity, several narrative-driven works with poet-producer Mike Ladd and a live film score.
  • Haitian-American composer, flutist and vocalist Nathalie Joachim, who received a Best Global Music Album Grammy Award nomination for the recording of her full-length work Fanm d'Ayiti, which celebrates some of Haiti's under-recognized female artists.
  • Nico Muhly, who has written more than 100 works, including the operas Two Boys and Marnie, both of which premiered at English National Opera and were commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Muhly's stage and screen work includes music for the Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie and the Academy Award-winning film The Reader, for which he won a World Soundtrack Award.
  • Irish composer and vocalist Emma O'Halloran, whose work has been featured at the international Classical NEXT Conference in Rotterdam and at New York's Prototype Festival, and who won numerous awards including National Sawdust's inaugural Hildegard competition.
  • Ellen Reid, who received the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her opera p r i s m. Reid is the first composer commissioned by -- and to have world premieres at -- all four of Los Angeles' major classical music institutions. Reid's film scores include The Midnight Swim and Buster's Mal Heart. Her site-specific Soundwalk installations in New York and Los Angeles have drawn critical acclaim.
  • Wang Lu, a composer and pianist who serves as Vanguard Emerging Opera Composer at the Chicago Opera Theatre and received the Berlin Prize in Music Composition in 2019. Wang is a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow and Assistant Professor of Music at Brown University.
  • Composer and performer Shelley Washington, whose string quartet piece "MIDDLEGROUND" appears on the 2019 Grammy-nominated album Freedom and Faith. Washington recently recorded with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and is creating a new work for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

CASTING. With a diverse cast of actors, singers and creators, in desert in characters are played by on-screen actors and singers whose voices are heard on the soundtrack; some of the on-screen actors are seen singing; others create and embody characters guided by off-screen voices, often placing the story in a dreamlike universe that's not quite earthbound, not quite celestial.

Onscreen performers

Vocal performers

  • Baritone and 2020 Glyndebourne Opera Cup winner Edward Nelson (singing Ion);
  • Tony Award-winning tenor Jesus Garcia (singing Rufus);
  • Renowned tenor Alan Pingarrón (singing Federico);
  • Bass-baritone and 2018 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award Davóne Tines (singing Old Man/Derek); and
  • Soprano Brianna J. Robinson, mezzo-soprano Emma Sorenson, and tenor Neal Ferreira (singing a ghostly Greek-chorus-like trio known as "Vapors").

WRITERS/LIBRETTISTS. The artists above join a robust Writers Room team that crafted the story and wrote the libretti with Lead Writer christopher oscar peña and Deputy Lead Writer Joy Kecken (writer/director for HBO's The Wire, Supervising Producer on Marvel's Cloak and Dagger, co-Executive Producer on Freeform's Motherland: Fort Salem) They include (in alpha order):

  • Obie Award-winning "Milk Like Sugar" playwright Kirsten Greenidge;
  • "Hi, Are You Single?" playwright and actor Ryan J. Haddad;
  • "Amputees" playwright Quentin Nguyen-duy;
  • "Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them" playwright A. Rey Pamatmat;
  • Sundance Playwright Fellow and librettist Roxie Perkins; and
  • Composer and playwright Jesse J. Sanchez, "SUEÑOS."

DIRECTORS. The eight "desert in" episodes are helmed by four directors led by Darrah:

  • Opera and film director, and Long Beach Opera Artistic Director James Darrah ("The Fall of the House of Usher" opera film, "Breaking the Waves" opera; "Soldier Songs" opera film );
  • Emmy Award-nominated producer and director Zackary Drucker (director, "The Lady and the Dale" on HBO Max, and producer, "Transparent" on Prime Video);
  • Veteran TV writer, producer and director Joy Kecken (writer/co-executive producer, "Motherland: Fort Salem" on Freeform, and writer/director for HBO's "The Wire");
  • Onscreen artist and director Raviv Ullman (director, "Standing Ground" documentary film).

Music Director for desert in is David Angus, leading members of the Boston Lyric Opera Orchestra (Annie Rabbat, violin and Concertmaster; Leowi Lin, cello; Jan Halloran, clarinet/bass clarinet; Linda Toote, flute/alto flute; Richard Flanagan, percussion; Craig McNutt, percussion; and Brett Hodgdon, keyboard player/operator.) Audio Recording Engineer and Music Mixing is by Daniel Neumann. Studio Recording Engineering is by Immersive Music Project.

Michael Elias Thomas is the Director of Photography. Production Designer is Yuki Izumihara. Costume Designer is Molly Irelan. Gaffer/Lighting Designer is Pablo Santiago.

PRODUCER TEAM Executive Producers for desert in
Bradley Vernatter and Jessica Johnson Brock for Boston Lyric Opera. Co-Executive Producers are Jennifer Rivera and James Darrah for Long Beach Opera. Consulting Producer is Joy Kecken. Producer is Theory & Practice Productions (Tony Shayne, Pranav Shah; Assistant Producer Kerstin Heinrich). Associate Producer is Bailey Costa.


Ep. 1: "This House is Now"
Composer: Ellen Reid
Writer: Kirsten Greenidge
Director: James Darrah

Ep. 2: "Love is Like the Sea"
Composer: Nathalie Joachim
Writer: Joy Kecken
Director: James Darrah

Ep. 3 : "Someday you'll know...they're
calling to you too"
Composers: Ellen Reid, Vijay Iyer
Writer: A. Rey Pamatmat
Director: Zackary Drucker

Ep. 4: "A Single Man"
Composer: Emma O'Halloran
Writer: Ryan J. Haddad
Director: James Darrah

Ep. 5: "I miss you more than I remember you"
Composer: Wang Lu
Writer: christopher oscar peña
Director: Raviv Ullman

Ep. 6: "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter"
Composer: Shelley Washington
Writer: Quentin Nguyen-duy
Director: James Darrah

Ep. 7: "The Sun Also Rises"
Composer: Nico Muhly
Writer: Jesse J. Sanchez
Director: Joy Kecken

Ep. 8: "Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us"
Composer: Michael Abels
Writer: Roxie Perkins
Director: James Darrah

More information about "desert in" writers is available here. More information about composers is here.

desert in pricing starts at $5 per episode. Operabox.tv is available at the operabox.tv website and through branded apps on Apple, Google, Amazon and Roku platforms.

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