Philip Glass in a Parking Lot? Long Beach Opera Is Taking the Form to Surprising New Places

An experimental drive-in production of ’Les Enfants Terribles’ is ”meant to be more immersive”

If you think opera is static and stodgy, head to the top of the parking garage at 2nd and PCH in Long Beach. There, from May 21 to May 23, director James Darrah is staging an experimental (and sold-out), drive-in production of Philip Glass’s Les Enfants Terribles.

“Opera is really weighed down sometimes by tradition,” says Darrah, Long Beach Opera’s newly named artistic director and chief creative officer. “The proscenium is a comfortable model that we hold on to—we’ll never dispense with it. But we owe it to the possibilities of what music can make us feel to let opera venture into other realms.”

The roof of the concrete parking structure can accommodate roughly 100 opera-going vehicles parked along the perimeter. Four singers, accompanied by three pianos and four dancers, will perform around the lot, with the music being transmitted via FM radio to car stereos. Several projection screens throughout the space will show both the live performances and filmed imagery.

“It’s intentionally meant to be more immersive,” explains Darrah. “Depending on where you park, you see different screens.”

Composed by Glass in 1996 and based on Jean Cocteau’s 1929 novel of the same name, Les Enfants focuses on twins Paul and Elisabeth, whose implicitly incestuous obsession leads to a disastrous conclusion. In Darrah’s staging, Paul is sung by baritone Edward Nelson and Elisabeth by soprano Anna Schubert. Darrah first directed the show in 2019 for the One Festival at Opera Omaha. He originally intended to transfer it to a theater or other proscenium space, but the pandemic forced him to get creative. After looking at drive-in movie lots and other outdoor venues, he decided on the parking garage.

“I’m really excited to be starting this new phase where we’re merging digital-medium-content opera with a return to live performance,” says Darrah. “Those two things in tandem have the potential to be really exciting.”

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