Opera has always been a Promethean medium — a foolhardy harnessing of divine fire — so it’s not surprising that operas have often hinged on acts of creation, from Siegfried’s sword to Oppenheimer’s bomb. Guerilla Opera, a Boston chamber-opera company, will honor that tradition when it opens its season on Sept. 25. It will need some bread.
“Let’s Make a Sandwich” pairs two “micro-operas,” both inspired by a 1950 informational film that gives the evening its title. The pieces — “RareBit” by Curtis K. Hughes, and “Ouroboros” by Guerilla co-artistic director Rudolf Rojahn — will each be staged twice, by two different directors.
According to Aliana de la Guardia, Guerilla Opera’s general manager, it’s a deliberate pulling-back of the operatic curtain. “Since everything we do is a world premiere and the first time anyone sees the new work, we wonder if the audience can differentiate what is the composer’s idea versus what is interpreted by the director,” she explains. “Our hope is that the audience will leave thinking about how much imagination and collaboration went into putting all this together.”
De la Guardia is answering questions via e-mail, since the soprano is concurrently deep in rehearsals for the new production. The multitasking is in keeping with the company’s close-knit atmosphere. De la Guardia sings; co-artistic director Mike Williams, one of the city’s best percussionists, leads from the instrumental side; Rojahn, in addition to composing for the company (“Ouroboros” is his fourth such effort), often handles the ever-more-common electronic components of new scores. They’ve also built up a tight circle of collaborators. “We are an ensemble in every way,” de la Guardia writes. “So from the very beginning we’ve been creating a brand in our sound, much like a band.”
That branding might be common to a lot of opera companies, large and small, but for Guerilla Opera, the resulting network means that, when necessary, they can turn on a dime in a way that most companies can’t. “Let’s Make a Sandwich” is a somewhat extreme case in point. “I think the time frame for the composers was something ridiculous like six months,” de la Guardia notes, “but these are composers we know and who agreed to write an opera that quickly.” (Hughes also composed “Say It Ain’t So, Joe,” an operatic adaptation of the 2008 vice presidential debate, which Guerilla Opera premiered in 2009.)
Next spring, Guerilla Opera will debut another commissioned work, Per Bloland’s “Pedr Solis.” That will make 12 premieres since the company’s founding in 2007. It’s an impressive record, one that comes as a result of a skillful dance between ambition and pragmatism. The company has deliberately kept its budgets small and its growth slow, maximizing the level of performance and effect while minimizing overhead. (De la Guardia credits Julia Noulin-Mérat, the company’s director of design and production, with expanding its ideas of cost-conscious theatrical possibilities.) Would the group even want to move into larger-sized productions? De la Guardia says they’ve thought about it, but the project would have to be ideal: “We want to retain what makes us unique, which is our sound and method of performance.”
“Let’s Make a Sandwich” might turn out to be the company’s most experimental effort yet, which is saying something. Its last opera, Ken Ueno’s wonderfully surreal “Gallo,” featured a singing chicken on a beach made of Cheerios. But one of Guerilla Opera’s greatest strengths has been its ability to ground even the wildest of theatrical excursions in the lines of communication between performers and audience: Its productions invite you in. As de la Guardia puts it: “We’re all just people, and I think we need to connect at that level.”