The mere mention of opera tends to come with some weighty, even clichéd expectations. It evokes images of robust tenors in powdered wigs, broadcasting verses in Italian or French to an audience of aristocrats and society-page all-stars. Opera, as pop culture has absorbed it, more or less amounts to a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Opera doesn't have to cater specifically to the button-down, highbrow crowd, however. That's the gist behind Glottalopticon, an experimental opera series at Space 4 Art in East Village (325 15th St.). The works performed in the series fall well outside the traditional opera sphere of Puccini and Verdi; instead, attendees will get to see lesser-known works presented in an unconventional fashion.
When curator Meghann Welsh began booking the series, she'd already been involved with a few events at Space 4 Art and was primarily looking for a novel way to use the outdoor space.
"And so I thought opera," she says. "The idea of opera and bringing art and music together was a good way to make a lot of things happen in that space."
Some of the past Glottalopticon performances have included Automatic, a trio of micro-operas that focused on the intersection of technology and the human voice, complete with sci-fi themes, and "Long Deep Absence," which explored the overlap between doom metal and doo-wop. Each one presents a unique alternative to a traditional opera performance, sometimes with visual installations and other unconventional additions. And for that matter, audiences aren't required to stay in their seats through the duration of the show.
There's no specific template to how one of the operas in the series should operate, and, Welsh says, that's exactly how it's supposed to be.
"It should be somewhat different each time it happens," she says, "something that's going to present music—or a dramatic performance—to the audience in a new way. So, for example, in our last production that coincided with the open studios at Space 4 Art, the audience could walk around from piece to piece and experience at all.
"The audience has a little more freedom to engage with it however they want."
The next two operas on the Glottalopticon calendar are Invisible People, which focuses on the theme of homophobia in the African-American community, on Friday, Sept. 27, and Sextuor: L'origin des Especes, an adaptation of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, on Nov. 1. For Welsh, the diversity of the series is important to attracting an entirely different kind of audience to opera.
"I want to attract both," she says. "I want people who have a certain idea of opera, who love music and theatrics. And I want them to come and kind of have their mind open to another way of approaching that. But I definitely want to get people who like noise music, and concerts and theatrics and metal shows.
"This is kind of a way to unite the two audiences."
Classic chill: You wouldn't think the drummer in a band called Fighting Shit would become a renowned chamber-music composer, but Ólafur Arnalds is a different sort of musician. When he was 18 years old, Icelandic musician Arnalds was asked by German metal band Heaven Shall Burn to contribute piano and strings to one of their albums, which launched a long career of stark neo-classical music. He's toured with Sigur Rós, and has contributed to the soundtracks of Looper and The Hunger Games, among other career highlights. His compositions are sparse and delicate, spacious and wintry, and he'll be performing them at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, at The Loft at UCSD. $12-$28.theloft.ucsd.edu
Highbrow groove: In contemporary jazz circles, trumpeter Dave Douglas has built a reputation as one of the most daring modern-jazz musicians. He's worked with experimental legends like Anthony Braxton and John Zorn and has toured with Horace Silver. His style is bold and avant-garde but soulful, owing as much to the fringes of free jazz as the more accessible sounds of '60s hard-bop. Douglas will lead his new quintet in what will be only his second San Diego performance, on Oct. 9 at the La Jolla Athenaeum. $30-$35.
Brutal youth: The overarching theme to the Art of Elan's concert series for its fall / winter season is "Reflections," with the chamber-music group building its performances on concepts such as hope, loss and humanity. The first in the series, which takes place on Oct. 15 at the San Diego Museum of Art, is "Youth." The group will perform Mendelssohn's "String Quartet No. 2," which he wrote when he was 18, and Elvis Costello's "The Juliet Letters," based on a series of imaginary letters written to Juliet Capulet. $10-$25. artofelan.org
Inspiration interpretation: Clarinetist Evan Ziporyn has performed with a variety of notable new-music ensembles, including Bang on a Can and Steve Reich and Musicians, in addition to composing and performing music for Balinese gamelans. Yet solo, Ziporyn creates otherworldly, minimal sounds with his instrument, sometimes so dissonant and eerie they don't initially register as the sound of a clarinet. He'll perform his concerto Big Grenadillo, as well as new arrangements of works by Lennie Tristano, Shuggie Otis and The B-52's on Nov. 1 at Bread and Salt in Logan Heights as part of the Fresh Sound series. $10-$15. freshsoundmusic.com