Local opera company marries Star Trek, Mozart

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While the word “opera” may bring to mind classical orchestral scores and Italian ballads, the Pacific Opera Project (POP) has reimagined one of Mozart’s most famous operas in an entirely unique way—as a Star Trek episode. A group of students and faculty gathered in Bird Studio in Booth Hall March 5 to watch a preview of POPs production.

POP’s adaptation of Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” was inspired by what is commonly referred to as “The Original Series” Star Trek from the 1960s. The opera’s main hero, Belmonte, has been transformed into a caricature of William Shatner’s original Captain Kirk, complete with theatrical stances and hair tosses.

While POP’s adaptation may seem overly exaggerated, it draws from the dramatic, and at times campy, nature of the original television series. Students had the opportunity to view portions of the performance in the special preview, which highlighted the adaptation’s light-hearted tone and humor.

“It’s almost like an old sitcom, where you have the laugh track,” artistic director Josh Shaw said.

While the storyline and music in “The Abduction from the Seraglio” remain true to the original Mozart work, the setting and characters underwent a complete sci-fi transformation, and the opera is performed in English. Shaw developed the project after connecting with the original opera’s history.

“This show specifically has been in my mind for a while with the title ‘abduction,’ and so I started thinking about aliens,” Shaw said. “I started to do research and learned that the original series was always super strapped for cash, so they would just borrow sets from whatever show was close, and you know I can relate to that.”

This is not the first mash-up that POP has put on. In 2013, they presented a “Scarface” inspired adaptation of “The Marriage of Figaro.” According to Shaw, POP often reinvents traditional shows in unique, non-traditional styles.

POP is a small, local opera company located in Highland Park. Since being founded four years ago, their audiences and productions have grown substantially. While they usually play to a crowd of 80 people, their Star Trek production sold out the 350 seats at the El Portal Theatre.

“The secret to the success has really just been entertaining people,” Shaw said. “So much opera is beautiful and well done, but people don’t leave feeling entertained. It’s like going to a museum some of the time, and we step completely away from that.”

While this was POP’s first event at Occidental, chair of the music department David Kasunic has attended previous POP performances and sent his students to one of its performances as an assignment last year. Kasunic hopes working with POP will expand students’ community engagement.

“What we’re trying to do right now is explore ways that we can deepen this cooperation so that a local, home-grown opera company that’s doing, for me, some of the most exciting opera around, is at home here and our students benefit from it,” Kasunic said.

Both Shaw and Kasunic wish to collaborate further and host future events at Occidental, with the possibility of developing further educational experiences for students.

“I would really like to open up some of the spaces on campus to them, whether it be open spaces like the front of Thorne, or possibly Keck,” Kasunic said. “There could be productions here, and students then could participate in doing behind the scenes work, doing work on the sets, seeing everything that goes into putting together an opera production, and it will be almost a workshop for students who are interested in all aspects of theatrical, musical performance.”