Karen O's 'Stop the Virgens' and Other Bizarre Operas


Here at Flavorwire, we’re always up for new forms of artistic expression, particularly those that take traditional notions of genre and performance and turn them on their heads. We’ve been hearing whispers of Karen O’s new ‘psycho opera’ since July, but as more and more information has trickled in, we’ve gotten more and more excited, if only for the spectacle of it all. To tide ourselves over until the show arrives in NYC in October, we’ve taken a look at a few other wonderfully insane operas we’ve caught wind of over the years. Note: though we’re sure everyone has their own idea of what constitutes an opera, the first definition in the dictionary is “a dramatic work in one or more acts, set to music for singers and instrumentalists,” so we’re casting a wide net in terms of form — but strangeness is not optional.

Karen O’s Stop the Virgens

“I have a pretty good idea of what the psycho opera is about but I wouldn’t dare try and put it into my clumsy words,” Karen O said in an August press release. “I’m hoping to create an original live experience … This piece isn’t aiming to be all about spectacle or abstraction though there is good helping of both in the production. It’s aiming to have all the good stuff of escapist entertainment with a few sucker punches to the gut along the way.” Sounds good to us. Part of The Creators Project, the opera will run at St Ann’s Warehouse from October 12-22.

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Laurie Anderson’s Delusion

Delusion, which we caught last year as part of BAM’s 2010 Next Wave Festival, was a 90-minute multi-media solo opera by Laurie Anderson, who is definitely a woman who should have her own opera. From the promotional materials: “A phantasmagoric world made up of short plays, her latest work is activated by brooding, deeply affecting music redolent with Tibetan temple horns and Arabic strings, performed by Anderson on electronically enhanced violin with supporting virtuoso musicians. A simultaneously contemplative and whimsical epic about longing, identity, and memory, Delusion invokes both humor and terror, conjuring up elves, mysteries, ghost ships, and dead relatives to spin poetic stories and imagery into gold.”

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R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet”

Described by Kelly as a ‘hip hopera’ (and also as ‘an alien’), this 2005 multi-part YouTube sensation may be the real future of modern opera. Or maybe not.

Giorgio Moroder’s Rock Opera Version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is by all accounts a reigning classic of silent film, not to mention science fiction. Also a classic was the 1984 remake created by Oscar-winning composer Giorgio Moroder, who transformed the silent film into a rock opera featuring a soundtrack performed by Freddie Mercury, Pat Benatar, Bonnie Tyler, and more. Though at the time many critics hated the thing, the real problem was corralling all the music rights, an issue which has kept the film out of wide release. However, this fall, the DVD will finally hit stores, and even better, will be supported by a 20-city theatrical run, so you can experience this bizarre remake on the big screen.

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Video Musics II: Sun Wu-Kong

As far as we can tell, no one else is doing anything like this. Alexis Gideon’s one hour multi-media hip hop video opera (the trailer is above) is a weird, psychedelic romp based on the 16th century classical Chinese novel The Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. Gideon has already completed one leg of a live tour, where he raps and plays music alongside the projected film, and is embarking on another beginning in October.

Nabaz’mob, an opera for 100 smart rabbits

In 2006, 100 Nabaztag smart rabbits (escorted by their owners) met at the Centre Pompidou in Paris “in the same spirit as the flashmobs” to perform an opera specially composed for them by Antoine Schmitt and Jean-Jacques Birgé. The opera won the Prix Ars Electronica Award of Distinction Digital Musics in 2009, and if you happen to be in Tallinn, Estonia or Beauvais, France this fall, you can check it out for yourself. Find out more over at the Nabaz’mob website.

Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown

The Orpheus myth has been conceived and re-concieved many times throughout our cultural history, not least in traditional operatic form. But Anais Mitchell and her friends (Ani DiFranco, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and others) have gone a slightly different direction and transformed the tale into a lush folk opera set in a post-apocalyptic depression era America. It’s hipster Orpheus! Who would have thought it? The project, which was originally a staged production, is now available as a CD. Find out more here.

Jerry Springer: The Opera

This one might be a different kind of a bizarre, but it’s bizarre nonetheless. The 2003 British musical based on the Jerry Springer Show garnered critical and public praise in the UK, winning several Laurence Olivier awards including ‘Best New Musical.’ It is also noted for including 8,000 swear words (though this may be a popular exaggeration — suffice to say, it’s fairly crass). It wasn’t until the bawdy performance was aired on the BBC in 2005 that the protests began to pour in. The Christian Institute even attempted to bring a private prosecution against the BBC, to no success. Even so, the show was nowhere near as popular in the United States as it proved to be in the UK. Too close to home, perhaps?