If you’ve ever considered climbing Mount Everest but hate being cold, here’s your chance: “Everest,” Opera Parallèle’s thrillingly immersive new production, will take you right to the top.
It opens this weekend in San Francisco’s Z Space performance complex, fusing the opera by composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer with a newly designed 360-degree staging directed by Parallèle director Brian Staufenbiel and conducted by company conductor and general director Brian Staufenbiel .
In some respects, this is the same “Everest” that the company first brought to the Bay Area in 2021 at San Francisco’s Atrium Theater – a gripping 68-minute production based on Jon Krakauer’s harrowing 1997 book, “Into Thin Air,” with video created by Staufenbiel and designer/illustrator David Murakami, and featuring recorded performances by a cast of top-flight singers including Sasha Cooke, Nathan Granner, Kevin Burdette, Hadleigh Adams and Shawnette Sulker.
But Staufenbiel says that those who experienced that production will be surprised at the differences this time around.
“What I wanted was a fully immersive opera experience,” the director explained in a recent phone call from the Z Space theater. “This will be a fundamentally different experience. It’s not projected onto one screen — it’ll be all around you.”
Staufenbiel said creators have achieved that immersive experience with new modifications to Z Space. The company has removed the theater’s tiered seating so the audience will be seated at ground level. Screens have been installed around the theater for a 360-degree experience; the film will be projected on screens and sculpted rocks created for this production and placed throughout the theater. Audience members will be given white ponchos that will themselves serve as screens as the film is projected.
The results are amazing, says Staufenbiel. “You feel you’re walking into the film,” he said. “It’s a truly wrap-around experience.”
One of the things that made “Everest” great from the beginning was the music direction by Paiement, who conducted the opera’s world premiere at Dallas Opera in 2015. She’s conducted it numerous times since then, including the San Francisco premiere at the Atrium in 2021.
“She’s performed it a lot,” notes Staufenbiel, noting that Paiement is scheduled to conduct the work in London with the BBC Orchestra later this year. Those performances will be recorded for subsequent release.
Staufenbiel and Paiement are husband and wife and have worked together extensively with Opera Parallèle on a wide range of operas from Berg’s “Wozzeck” to Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” and, earlier this season, Philip Glass’s “La Belle et la Bete.” Staufenbiel says that “Everest” remains one of their treasured productions.
“We’re incredible fans of Joby Talbot,” he said. “He knows how to tell a story, in so many ways. This precarious adventure, and the spirits of the people who died on the mountain — there’s just a beautiful dramatic arc to the story, the tension all the time bringing out these poignant duets. It’s a tragic love story.
Staufenbiel considers “Everest” a universal story — one he describes as having an appeal to a wide audience. “If you love art, animated visuals, mountain climbing – it’s a real crossover piece.
“It’s one of the most exciting of anything I’ve created so far,” he added. “And I think it’s the best entrance into opera we’ve done. It’s one that if people say ‘I don’t like opera,’ you can say ‘Come to this one, and you will love it.’”
Contact Georgia Rowe at [email protected]
By Coby Talbot (composer) and Gene Scheer (librettist), presented by Opera Parallèle
When: Feb. 3-12
Where: Z Space performance complex, 450 Florida St., San Francisco
Tickets: $20-$75; operaparallele.org. www.zspace.org