One of the city's most innovative arts companies enters a new phase Friday, Nov. 25, with The Black Pirate vs. The Flying Dutchman, its first show under new artistic director Erica Melton, who's been playing piano with Opera Theater Oregon—an organization dedicated to "making opera safe for America"—and has served as music director since 2008. It's also the first production in OTO's two-year residency at the Mission Theater.
Since its founding in 2005, OTO has earned a strong reputation and new audiences by staging cheeky, fun productions of classic operas in casual settings like the Alberta Rose Theatre, Someday Lounge and Clinton Street Theater. Shows include audience participation and a sly sense of fun, although they always take the music seriously—even when it's performed by electric guitars or a piano and chorus rather than a mega-orchestra.
This season's Opera vs. Cinema series draws on the resources of the Mission Theater to combine opera, classic films and live improvised music in a throwback to the days when movies were accompanied not by recorded soundtracks but by organists or pianists. Using film is also cheaper than building props ("You can create a world easily," Melton explains), and takes advantage of OTO film director Jen Wechsler's cinematic knowledge and the improvising talents of pianist Douglas Schneider. "I wanted to create a series around his talents," Melton says.
Friday's show exemplifies the new direction, pairing Douglas Fairbanks' 1926 Technicolor swashbuckler The Black Pirate with Schneider's accompaniment based on Richard Wagner's 1843 opera The Flying Dutchman. "It's got everything a family would want from a pirate film," Melton says. "Buried treasure, water rescue, walking the plank, a hero standing up for good." (Not to mention a leading man doing his own stunts.) Of course, beer will be available. Later shows will feature collisions between Verdi's Aida and Fritz Lang's Metropolis, John Adams' Dr. Atomic with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande with Last Year at Marienbad.
"We also hope to expand our fan base by bringing in people interested in film and turning them on to opera," Melton says. "It's a little like sneaking zucchini into a muffin for your 2-year-old."
SEE IT: The Black Pirate vs. The Flying Dutchman, 7 pm Friday, Nov. 25, at the Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan St., 223-4527. $9 advance, $11 day of show. Minors allowed with parent or guardian.