LA Opera scraps planned world premiere of Mason Bates' 'Kavalier and Clay' adaptation over finances

NEW YORK (AP) — The Los Angeles Opera has scrapped plans for the world premiere of Mason Bates' “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” this fall because of finances. The work will instead open with a student cast at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music.

Bates' composition, based on Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is a co-commission with the Metropolitan Opera and was to have originated at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oct. 26. Instead, it will have four performances from Nov. 15-22 at the Musical Arts Center in Bloomington, Indiana, then move to the Met as planned for its 2025-26 season.

“It was a very ambitious and therefore expensive project, and unfortunately in the current conditions, it wasn’t something that we can manage,” LA Opera CEO Christopher Koelsch said. “Operationally we are kind of back to pre-COVID normalcy in terms of income. The audience is back and both earned and contributed revenue is stable. The big difference is the cost structure is not pre-COVID.”

The Met first discussed plans in 2018 for the project, focused on the development of the comic book industry. Koelsch made the decision to drop LA's participation in October.

“I was shocked at first. But I understand how all opera companies in America are facing enormous financial challenges, so I was sympathetic,” Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said. “I wish the timing had been a little bit better. But we’re looking forward to seeing the show a year ahead of its premiere at the Met, because it’s a very complicated opera with a lot of scenes.”

Gelb prefers having new works open at other companies to allow changes before they are presented by the Met. Composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist George Brandt are working on rewrites to “Grounded,” which premiered at the Washington National Opera last fall and opens the Met's 2024-25 season.

Evans Mirageas, a former recording executive who is the Cincinnati Opera's artistic director, suggested the Jacobs School to the Met's director of commissioning, Paul Cremo, because the dimensions of its theater stage are similar to the Met's. Cremo sent an email last month to Abra K. Bush, dean of the Jacobs School, suggesting the shift.

“We stopped dead in our tracks,” Bush said. “My first reaction was, ‘We’ll do it. And then I’m going to figure out the money and ask for forgiveness later if I need it.’”

Bush and two other school officials attended a piano-vocal workshop of the opera last month in a subterranean rehearsal room of Lincoln Center Theater and cleared space in the school's 2024-25 schedule. Bartlett Sher will direct in Indiana and Michael Christie likely will conduct, with Met music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin taking over in New York. The design team includes Mark Grimmer and 59 Productions, and the work has about 10 principal and 10 secondary roles.

Bates, 47, won a Grammy Award in 2019 for “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” which premiered at the Santa Fe Opera in 2017 and was coproduced with the Jacobs School. Bates is currently orchestrating the work, which has electronic music and a libretto by Gene Scheer.

“It's a story about Jewish immigrants changing American culture and certainly that resonates in LA,” Bates said. “In a way, going to Indiana is a really welcome thing because we'll have probably more flexibility to experiment and try things that might not be available to us in a professional house.”