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Long Beach Opera’s The Black Cat

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Long Beach Opera’s The Black Cat

Jacques Schiltz (man in jail) in Long Beach Opera’s The Black Cat

Jacques Schiltz (man in jail) in Long Beach Opera’s The Black Cat

Photos by Keith Ian Polakoff

Jacques Schiltz (man in jail) in Long Beach Opera’s The Black Cat

Photos by Keith Ian Polakoff

Photos by Keith Ian Polakoff

Jacques Schiltz (man in jail) in Long Beach Opera’s The Black Cat

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Long Beach Opera (LBO) began its 2019 season last weekend with The Black Cat, a funky opera based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. The production is part of LBO’s 2019 theme of “justice” that will continue in two forthcoming productions and a series of community events.

Jennifer Rivera, LBO executive director, said in a statement that the five community conversations– on topics such as “Dismantling Racism as a Community” at the Michelle Obama Library on Feb. 9 and “Life Beyond Prison” at CSULB on April 30– are free and open to the public.

“By gathering together artists, thinkers and community leaders, we are hoping that the public can walk away from these community conversations with new ideas and a deeper understanding of our world,” Rivera said. “And at the same time be able to have a better appreciation of the operas themselves.”

The conversations complement LBO’s upcoming productions of In the Penal Colony in April and May at CSULB and The Central Park Five in June at the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro.

The Black Cat, at the Beverly O’Neill Theater last weekend only, offered a literary inflection on the justice theme and an excellent example of the kind of innovative, edgy work that is LBO’s hallmark.

Written jointly by conductor Martin Haselböck, director Frank Hoffmann and visual director Virgil Widrich, The Black Cat blends two different genres of music, powerful dramatic dance and multimedia video projection on three background screens.

As in Poe’s story, a man sits in jail recalling his wife and cat. This production blames alcoholism as the driving force behind his hanging of the cat and, with a new cat later, killing his wife.

Visually, we see the man’s nearly instant psychological transformation after emptying a flask at the breakfast table as a tree in the window becomes stunningly psychedelic with bright green branches and jewel-like pink berries.

Sylvia Camarda (wife) and Jean-Guillaume Weis (man at home) in Long Beach Opera’s The Black Cat

The music also shifts from J.S. Bach compositions while the man is in jail– performed by baroque ensemble Musica Angelica under Haselböck’s direction, with spiritual solos by tenor Aaron Sheehan– to modern English songwriter David Sylvian’s bass-heavy forlorn songs piped in during the flashbacks.

The two dancers who performed the roles of husband, wife and two cats are exceptional. Sylvia Camarda, a lithe Luxembourg-based dancer and choreographer, is wonderfully expressive, not just physically but in her animated facial expressions. She made a lissome feline, hissing and clawing.

Jean-Guillaume Weis, also a European dancer, complemented her with taut masculinity. His weaving and tumbling while drunk, shifting his center of balance and falling believably yet aesthetically, was especially impressive. He also made a highly enjoyable pouncing and playful cat.

A third actor, Jacques Schiltz, had to perform the part of the tenor because the original tenor couldn’t enter the U.S. due to the current government shutdown, as LBO Artistic Director Andreas Mitisek informed the audience. Schiltz gamely joined Camarda and Weis in their highly physical– and often very sensual– interactions.

This simple yet visually and dramatically stylized production adds anger, sexuality and also consolation between the couple to Poe’s gothic tale. Opera involves such emotional and sensory immersion, but LBO often takes chances, offering unconventional, uniquely riveting experiences– the cat’s meow.

For free tickets to LBO’s community events or to purchase tickets for its upcoming productions, visit LongBeachOpera.org. In addition to single-event tickets, LBO offers discounted season subscriptions and $12.50-per-ticket student subscriptions.

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Long Beach Opera’s The Black Cat