‘Twin Peaks’ of in­die opera

Los Angeles Times - - CULTURE MONSTER - cal­en­dar@latimes.com

BY CATHERINE WO­MACK >>> Beth Mor­ri­son has been ob­sessed with David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” for most her life. The black-clad, raven-haired in­die opera pro­ducer has watched the orig­i­nal se­ries 12 times. ¶ “It’s ab­surd, but it’s true,” she says, clar­i­fy­ing the ex­tent of her Lynchian ob­ses­sion. “In a weird way ‘Twin Peaks’ has played a very piv­otal role in shap­ing my aes­thetic.”

This week­end at REDCAT, Mor­ri­son is over­see­ing an early work­shop per­for­mance of “Ar­taud in the Black Lodge,” a “Twin Peaks”-in­spired mu­si­cal theater piece by com­poser David T. Lit­tle.

The idea for the work, and the two cre­ators’ ini­tial con­ver­sa­tion about it, came five years ago, long be­fore they knew the se­ries was re­turn­ing to TV. “Trust the uni­verse,” Lit­tle says, not­ing the aus­pi­cious tim­ing.

“Ar­taud in the Black Lodge” is a work in progress. Lit­tle has com­posed two of the piece’s three sec­tions, the first of which will be per­formed without stag­ing for the first time this week as part of REDCAT’s an­nual New Orig­i­nal Works Fes­ti­val.

The CalArts School of Theater’s Cen­ter for New Per­for­mance is a pro­duc­ing part­ner along with Beth Mor­ri­son Projects. The goal is for the work to re­ceive a fully staged world pre­miere in 2018-19.

Any ex­per­i­men­tal opera fan fa­mil­iar with Lit­tle’s oeu­vre — es­pe­cially the dis­turb­ing, can­ni­bal­is­tic, postapoc­a­lyp­tic cham­ber opera “Dog Days” — will un­der­stand why Mor­ri­son chose him to com­pose an opera based on Lynch’s se­ries.

“We match so much in the sort of dark world we both like to dis­cover,” she says.

Lit­tle latched on to the sur­re­al­ist el­e­ments of “Twin Peaks” and al­lowed his mind to wan­der out­side the con­fines of the se­ries as he de­vel­oped the drama’s con­cept.

“The ideas that Lynch is ex­plor­ing are re­ally in­ter­est­ing, and I had this feel­ing like I had en­coun­tered them be­fore in some form,” the com­poser says.

The puzzle came to­gether in Lit­tle’s

mind when he read An­tonin Ar­taud’s “The Theater and Its Double,” the early 20th cen­tury work of French theater phi­los­o­phy that em­pha­sizes vis­ceral sen­sual ex­pe­ri­ence over plot and text. “It sud­denly hit me that there was this sort of con­nec­tion be­tween Wil­liam S. Bur­roughs, An­tonin Ar­taud and David Lynch. For me it’s re­ally about the darker side of the sub­con­scious. And rather than push­ing that away, em­brac­ing it for what it can tell us about the world and the world beyond what we can see.”

With Bur­roughs thrown in the mix, Mor­ri­son and Lit­tle found their li­bret­tist in Anne Wald­man, an ex­per­i­men­tal Beat poet who knew Bur­roughs. The sur­re­al­ist play she pro­vided them with places Bur­roughs, Ar­taud and Lynch to­gether in­side the ex­tra-di­men­sional world of Twin Peaks’ in­fa­mous Black Lodge.

Lit­tle’s vo­cal muse for this project is Timur Bek­bo­sunov, a clas­si­cally trained opera singer and front­man for the genre-de­fy­ing L.A.-based rock band Timur and the Dime Mu­seum.

Bek­bo­sunov is a wild, riv­et­ing per­former who wields his pow­er­ful voice with heavy metal aban­don and em­bod­ies over-the-top char­ac­ters like a glam rocker. He is the only soloist in “Ar­taud in the Black Lodge,” singing the parts of Ar­taud, Bur­roughs and Lynch.

Lit­tle is com­pos­ing the piece specif­i­cally with Timur and the Dime Mu­seum in mind, adding only a string quar­tet for color. (The Isaura String Quar­tet per­forms this week­end.)

He is also tak­ing artis­tic cues from the drama’s sub­jects.

“For a work that is so about the sub­con­scious and artists that pur­sued the sub­con­scious, it would be

re­ally weird for me to not trust the sub­con­scious in my own process,” he says. “So I’m sit­ting back, ob­serv­ing and see­ing what the work says.”

Lit­tle de­scribes en­ter­ing a sort of med­i­ta­tive state of flow as he cre­ates. His ma­te­ri­als are sim­i­lar to those used in “Dog Days” — un­nerv­ing elec­tric drones and a dark in­dus­trial blend of am­pli­fied strings and heavy metal — and his process is highly in­tu­itive.

Mor­ri­son says she is ex­cited to “ex­plore the ex­per­i­men­tal side of David T. Lit­tle,” and that the re­sult, at least the bits she’s seen thus far, are “to­tally weird.”

“Imag­ine if Ar­taud, Bur­roughs and Lynch de­cided to open an in­dus­trial night­club,” Bek­bo­sunov says, try­ing to ex­plain the piece’s bizarre sur­re­al­ist con­cept. “And then imag­ine that night­club has this re­ally crazy, wild house band. And also the night­club is set in hell.”

The singer bursts into laugh­ter at his own de­scrip­tion. “Un­for­tu­nately, there are no cups of cof­fee and no pie in the pro­duc­tion,” he adds. “But I do love pies. So I will prob­a­bly have one af­ter the show.”

Jill Stein­berg

CLAS­SI­CALLY trained opera singer Timur Bek­bo­sunov is the lone soloist in “Ar­taud in the Black Lodge.”

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