Opera UCLA Presents the World Premiere of Cinematic Horror Opera Cesare, Child of Night

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Cesare, Child of Night

The Herb Alpert School of Music is proud to present film/TV orchestrator, music industry lecturer and composer Jonathan Beard’s (Respect, King Richard, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and The Mandalorian) world premiere of his cinematic horror opera Cesare, Child of Night via live stream on Halloween night, Oct. 31.

Cesare, Child of Night is a one-act electroacoustic opera based on the 1920 German silent horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which was acclaimed by film critic Roger Ebert as “the first true horror film” and by film reviewer Danny Peary as “cinema’s first cult film and a precursor for arthouse films.”

Directed by Emmy-nominated director and editor Stewart Schill (American Crime Story), Caesar utilizes footage from the original silent film Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which is re-edited to accompany the revised narrative, and then creatively intercut with a series of fifteen original paintings by artist Sufia Sadaf that depict each of the opera’s tableaus.

“The inspiration originally came from librettist Michael Cramer (lecturer, City College of New York), who loves the film and has taught it numerous times,” said Beard. “Once we decided to do our take on this story, I became fascinated with ideas of where silent-film ethos, elements of cabaret, 20th-century modernism, and the ever-evolving operatic tradition could meet in a 21st-century musical context.”

Because Cesare, Child of Night is based on a film story, a certain cinematic DNA was destined to make its way into the music, with some key differences. “With film or television scores, the turnaround is usually much shorter – a lot of music being delivered on a tight schedule. Cesare, by contrast, has been a project that I’ve turned to repeatedly over the last six years when I’ve had breaks in that TV/film schedule,” said Beard. “In that way, it’s been a creative oasis to visit and revisit: this is music I’ve gotten to engage with, experiment with, and live with, for a longer period of time. And that’s a process I’ve been very appreciative of.”

Cesare is infused with varying forms of musical expression, including elements from early 20th-century modernism and cabaret, a contemporary sound design, and asymmetrical electronic grooves. These expressions and designs are then are woven with cinematic DNA into an adventurous orchestration, which percolates within the long and rich operatic tradition.

“Doing the electronic sound design and building strange electroacoustic virtual instruments to my own specifications, is a part of the process that I always enjoy,” said Beard. “I love timbre, which helps explain my passion for both acoustic orchestration and electronic sound design! So, along those same lines, experimenting with unexpected acoustic instrumental combinations­–toy piano with bass flute, plucked cello, and percussion, for example–was also very fulfilling on this project.

The opera contains subtle “signifiers” from music of that era combined with contemporary operatic techniques and sound design. Electronic instruments are added into the mix with the acoustic ensemble, which features several UCLA professors, including Michael Dean (professor, voice performance), Antonio Lysy (area head, strings), Movses Pogossian (professor of violin), and Mike Shapiro (lecturer, music industry).

“Recording with my esteemed colleagues at UCLA’s Recording Studio was a delightful experience. I am so grateful to them for helping bring this new music to life,” said Beard.

Cesare, Child of Night will be presented by Opera UCLA, along with a special panel moderated by Peter Kazaras, director of Opera UCLA.

Panelists include:

  • Jonathan Beard (composer)
  • Stewart Schill (director)
  • Michael Dean (vocal performer)
  • Joanna Lynn-Jacobs (vocal performer)
  • Sufia Sadaf (visual artist)

Please join us and watch the world premiere of Cesare, Child of Night on Halloween night, Oct. 31, at 8 PM.