MelanchoLalaland ™:Transmedia Opera For Our Times

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
November 21, 2017 at 8:03 PM

When Mozart, Rossini, Wagner and Verdi were composing, they created operas that served as commentary on the life and times of the 18th and 19th centuries — epics of love and war, satire and sentimentality.

South Florida composer Joey Bargsten and librettist Thea Zimmer have created a 21st century opera that serves the same function. However, MelanchoLalaland ™, which premieres at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on Sunday, Sept. 13, turns traditional opera on its ear.

“When people think of opera,” says Bargsten, who is also multimedia professor at Florida Atlantic University, “they imagine a lot of stereotypes. A character is stabbed and instead of bleeding, he sings. We’ve updated the subject matter and we also show how an opera can be told through flashbacks and multiple timelines. There’s a lot of possibility.”

They call MelanchoLalaland ™ a transmedia opera. It’s a story of corporate takeovers and power plays, disgruntled employees and workplace shootings, and dissatisfied women in unfulfilled relationships. To continue their commentary on the modern world, the couple uses a platform that encompasses today’s technology.

“Transmedia might be a phrase that you would use if there are multiple media types that start creating some sort of hybrid and create something that is beyond the individual parts,” explains Bargsten.

The setting of MelanchoLalaland ™ is in the not-too-far-off future where global corporations specialize in anti-melancholia drugs and drive-through self-pleasuring pods. Its characters include Kenny Longtin, vice president of Melancuria, Inc., whose target market includes the mobs of enlightenment-challenged Americans picketing outside its gates.

“Thea created this corporate dystopia, where the characters interact. She wanted to highlight some of the dysfunction that takes place in that world.”

MelanchoLalaland ™’s roots go back to 2005 when Bargsten says he wrote a “rambling, esoteric performance piece.” It was based “in part” on Robert Burton’s 17th century classic The Anatomy of Melancholy. Librettist Zimmer — Bargsten’s wife — took that as a starting point, he says. “She crafted a narrative, expanded the characters — added a couple more — and basically created something that had a dramatic direction to it.”

There are many layers in this transmedia presentation — singers interact with video, including a scene in which they are singing words that appear on the screen. It’s a reference to karaoke, “a populist form of performance,” says Bargsten. Additionally, seeing the text written out allows for more visual presence. “It celebrates the text as the foundation of the production in addition to the music.”

On another end of the modern spectrum, professional opera singers — Matthew Maness, tenor; Michael Angelo Gonzalez, bass-baritone; and Vanessa Rose Rivera, mezzo soprano — perform live in MelanchoLalaland ™, but the score is produced electronically. “The palette of sounds and genres that I use covers a pretty wide range. There’s orchestral music, electronically produced rhythmic backgrounds, and experimental digital audio that intrudes into the landscape of sound,” explains the composer.

There is inclusion of animation, and material from some of Bargsten’s video games and interactive websites. Practically every medium is used in the opera, including two choreographed dances on video featuring members of the Miami-based Nazmo Dance Collective and the West Palm Beach-based Demetrius Klein Dance Company.

The couple always wanted to get MelanchoLalaland ™ off the ground, but receiving a Knight Arts Challenge grant was the kick-start that got them going. “It was a big incentive for us to complete the work and it gave us a very practical goal that we would have to perform the opera somewhere in Miami-Dade County by the end of October 2015.”

The Miami Beach Cinematheque in the historic City Hall seemed a perfect fit for the debut.

The title of MelanchoLalaland ™ carries with it a trademark symbol — a final underscore to the statement-making opera. “I want to invite the viewer to examine commercial culture by using the trademark symbol. This acknowledges that we as artists are creating products that are consumed by others and that we are part of that eco-system.”


WHAT: MelanchoLalaland ™

WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 13, 3:00 p.m.

WHERE: Miami Beach Cinematheque, 1130 Washington Ave., South Beach.

INFO: Tickets $15, students/senior tickets, $13. Info and tickets at and; and 305-673-4567.


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