LA Opera Presents MODULATION Review—Variations on 2020

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Identity, fear, isolation: three themes that are unavoidable for original work that debuts during the COVID pandemic

It might not be entirely centered on them explicitly, but to premiere during the pandemic, a work being sponsored by an opera company would have to be based around its online format being different from what its audiences would normally expect. Modulation, presented in collaboration with the Prototype festival, is such a showcase for thirteen original works inspired by those three themes.

Each of them is a three-to six-minute music video by a different creative team, and while they have a wealth of feelings from the past year to draw from, each bears the unmistakable stamp of socially distanced production in their visuals and audio mixing. The format of their presentation implies a suggested viewing order, but each viewer is free to watch any video in any sequence they please.

Modulation: Changes in Key within the Same Work

If the notion of contemplating identity is itself a fraught subject for you, you might find a sympathetic reflection in Paul Pinto’s piece Whiteness: Blanc. A Hispanic person who isn’t fluent in Spanish, his acapella poetry establishes that he’s fifty percent Latino and twenty-to-eighty percent white, depending on varying definitions, putting him at a loss for how to fit into the current cultural narratives surrounding race in the United States. The piece is frantic, discordant, and suffused with ironic humor. His many anxious inner monologues are sent snowballing into a cacophony by a not so simple four-word long question, rendered visually by director Kameron Neal and cinematographer Jon Burkland of the aptly named Zanni Productions. But at the other end of the identity menu, in its own sphere, is Jojo Abot’s The Divine I Am, a “call to allness” dedicated to the birth-cries of all experiences. A celebration of the mysterious, its synthesizer chords are as meditative and melodic as Pinto’s lyrics are verbose and free-flowing.

A Pivot Point after a Chaotic Year

Those aren’t the only facets of identity to be explored here, of course, or even the only ones focused on the nuances of Latinicity or an unformed life’s ineffable possibilities. The themes of fear and isolation are a bit more obviously related to COVID, although not every music video puts it at the center. This reviewer was particularly struck by Daniel Bernard Roumain’s I Have Nothing to Do but Love, seemingly about a woman with dementia whose pandemic isolation has become a sort of eternal present. Performed by Minna Choi with video direction by Dana Greenfield, it’s visual of a lone dancer on a street, with her older self observing herself from an empty house, depicts the courage it takes to accept disappointment and fear with grace. A counterpoint comes in the form of Ayene, composed by Sabha Aminikia with vocals written and performed by Mina Momeni. This video, complete with sinister twangs from a jaw harp and musical saw, depicts a young woman trapped with long-ago memories that are not her own. Instead, they are blurry scenes delivered through the television that become more nightmarish as her own grim song becomes clearer and more emphatic.

LA Opera Lets You Mix Your Own Concert

It is likely that a lot of these pieces will eventually be performed live, perhaps with their videos projected overhead. That will create a fundamentally different experience, in this reviewer’s opinion, than listening to tracks that were mixed from separate recordings and delivered through the intimacy of a handheld screen.

Already the events in between when these videos were completed and when they went live have likely changed how viewers will perceive them. A viewer on any day of this run might feel they have encountered something completely different. The site is easy to use but doesn’t give too much away; a large part of the Modulation experience is the user’s feeling that they have personally uncovered something special as they construct their own concert hearing pieces for the first time.

Modulation not only has something special for fans of contemporary opera, but is also highly recommended for anyone fascinated by the art of the music video, and especially for those who like to build their own playlist.



Through February 28, 2021



Streaming from the LA Opera Website





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Composers: Jojo Abot, Sahba Aminikia, Juhi Bansal, Raven Chacon, Carmina Escobar, Yvette Janine Jackson, Molly Joyce, Jimmy López Bellido, Angélica Negrón, Paul Pinto, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Joel Thompson and Bora Yoon

Site Design: Imaginary Places

Images courtesy of LA Opera

This story has been added to the Picture This Post roundup article on OPERAS WE LOVE.
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Jacob Davis
Jacob Davis

About the Author: Jacob Davis

Jacob Davis has lived in Chicago since 2014 when he started writing articles about theatre, opera, and dance for a number of review websites. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Theatre, where he specialized in the history of modernist dramatic literature and criticism. While there, he interned as a dramaturge for Dance Heginbotham developing concepts for new dance pieces. His professional work includes developing the original jazz performance piece The Blues Ain’t a Color with Denise LaGrassa, which played at Theater Wit. He has also written promotional materials for theatre companies including Silk Road Rising.

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