‘Twin Peaks’ of indie opera
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.”
CLASSICALLY trained opera singer Timur Bekbosunov is the lone soloist in “Artaud in the Black Lodge.”