About a week ago I went to see a cryptically named sort-of opera called “The Iceland Concert” at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater. I went mostly because of a vague interest in Scandinavian culture, because I was curious about the renovation of one of my favorite LA theaters, and because I trust the taste of the publicist. It didn’t hurt that the success of groups like Yuval Sharon’s The Industry and Chris Rountree’s wild Up have made Southern California a lively center for new music lately; I hoped this might end up being another part of that unfolding story.
“The Iceland Concert,” by the longtime LA group Overtone Industries, who are new to me, tells the tale of a brooding, itinerant Irishman who bumps into a black woman he used to know while walking through an airport; the two were once involved but had drifted apart. After the meeting, they disappear into a folkloric Icelandic setting complete with bizarre woodland creatures. And that’s about all I know or can describe lucidly. I got a bit lost in the storytelling — probably my fault, not the production’s — but the music and setting could hardly have been bettered.
Because the Ford is cut into the hillside near the Cahuenga Pass, and is smartly tiered, with running water and small plazas, it created a rustic, sophisticated, vaguely European environment for the piece.
The renovation of the Ford — which was built in 1920, burned down in 1929, and re-opened in 1931 — doesn’t appear to be complete yet, but it looks good so far, and was a very comfortable place to hang out before the show and at intermissions. (The seating area at least so far, does not appear to have been changed.)
The big surprise was the music. A 10-piece chamber orchestra and 12-voice choir onstage provided the accompaniment to music that was at times in the classical tradition, but also went other places: The woman, Vala, (played by Cesili Williams) sang in a very restrained R&B style. Her old flame, Mundi (played by Irish musician Emmett Tinley) sang and played guitar in a vaguely folky or Celtic mode, with touches of early Van Morrison crossed with Thom Yorke. It should not have all worked well together, but it did.
My only regret is that “The Iceland Concert,” which was written by O-Lan Jones and Tinley, and directed by Ken Roht, only played for one night. I’ll look forward to what this crew, and Overtone Industries in general, cooks up next.