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Boston Lyric Opera debuts innovative miniseries ‘Desert In’

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Boston Lyric Opera debuts innovative miniseries ‘Desert In’
PHOTO: COURTESY OF BOSTON LYRIC OPERA

On June 3, the Boston Lyric Opera debuts “Desert In,” a groundbreaking eight-part miniseries set in a mysterious motel where desperate individuals search for lost loved ones. Created by an extremely diverse and dynamic team, “Desert In” creates a new genre of performance that’s part film, part music video, part opera and part heart-wrenching human experience.

Justin Vivian Bond as The Lounge Singer in "Desert In." PHOTO: MICHAEL ELIAS THOMAS

Justin Vivian Bond as The Lounge Singer in “Desert In.” PHOTO: MICHAEL ELIAS THOMAS

BLO commissioned “Desert In” from a team of composers, screenwriters and directors led by Ellen Reid, Christopher Oscar Peña and James Darrah.

Joy Kecken, a TV writer, producer and director (writer/director for HBO’s “The Wire” among others), had little experience with opera when she signed on to “Desert In.” She describes the show as “modern, feminist, gay positive, fever dream, an oasis, a sensory overload.”

The primary story revolves around two couples: Cass and Sunny, the innkeepers who are celebrating an important anniversary, and Ion and Rufus, who are on their honeymoon. Lavish parties, secrets and illicit liaisons ensue, all with the broiling undercurrent of deep personal loss.

Talise Trevigne as Sunny in "Desert In." PHOTO: MICHAEL ELIAS THOMAS

Talise Trevigne as Sunny in “Desert In.”
PHOTO: MICHAEL ELIAS THOMAS

BLO was in search of a story that was as radically inclusive and artistically experimental as possible, and that drive for a more diverse kind of storytelling led to “Desert In.”

“We had probably the most diverse writing staff I’ve ever experienced,” says Kecken. “People need to see themselves represented on screen.”

This diversity comes through not only in the makeup of the actors, crew and production team but also in the musical styles, which flow from classical jazz to electronic dance music and onward. This is opera like you’ve never seen it before.

The miniseries has been a mammoth undertaking for an exceptional cause. Principle filming occurred in Palm Springs, with guidance and resources provided from the BLO team here in Boston. The orchestra and vocal performers all operated remotely, recording from their individual homes the score that would guide the production. Principle performers then used playback recordings and live conducting to perform the music during filming for continuity.

Pool party scene from "Desert In." PHOTO: MICHAEL ELIAS THOMAS

Pool party scene from “Desert In.” PHOTO: MICHAEL ELIAS THOMAS

The miniseries is available on BLO’s streaming service, operabox.tv. Episodes range from 10-20 minutes apiece, and each one highlights different members of the production team.

After a year of COVID-19 lockdowns and restricted artmaking opportunities, Kecken says, the team was desperate to be creating again. The process was a balm after the challenges of the pandemic, and she hopes audiences feel the same relief. “These moments can get us through for those who survived,” says Kecken. “We can heal from this, through the art.”

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