Conrad’s 'Heart of Darkness' gets operatic treatment 

click to enlarge Opera Parallèle artists call their new production of “Heart of Darkness,” onstage at Z Space this week, an “immersive experience.” - COURTESY  PHOTO
  • Opera Parallèle artists call their new production of “Heart of Darkness,” onstage at Z Space this week, an “immersive experience.”
British composer Tarik O'Regan is excited and thrilled about his operatic version of Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella "Heart of Darkness.”

“Our goal was to distill Conrad's dense narrative as much as possible while maintaining its potent nuances. I've always felt that the music and words of our opera form a skeleton over which myriad interpretations can be layered, depending on the vision of the production," says the composer, describing his and librettist Tom Phillips’ take on the famous work about imperialism and racism.

The opera premiered in London’s Royal Opera House in 2011. Opera Parallèle presents the North American premiere this week at Z Space in San Francisco, with music director Nicole Paiement and stage director Brian Staufenbiel at the helm. The cast includes Isaiah Bell, Heidi Moss, Daniel Cilli, Aleksey Bogdanov, Shawnette Sulker, Thomas Glenn and Philip Skinner.

As it was in Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 movie "Apocalypse Now" – another work based on “Heart of Darkness” – navigation is a primary theme in O’Regan’s opera and central to its drama.

“Navigation is both a practical part of the tale – a journey by boat on a river in an unnamed country in Central Africa – and a metaphor for telling, or indeed not telling, the truth of his experiences on this voyage,” says the postminimalist composer, 37, who has more than 100 works and 31 recordings to his credit.

Technical aspects of the upcoming production also are key to what Staufenbiel calls its “immersive environment." Audience members seated on sides of the stage actually become part of the set by wearing ponchos onto which digital imagery will be projected.

And as patrons enter the theater, 60 life-size faux elephant tusks in a lobby installation will be dismantled, and carried into the performace to create the show’s primary set piece, a boat.

The idea, Staufenbiel says, is not only to “tell the horrific story of the Belgium colonization of the Congo region,” but to “help build awareness of the current crisis caused by the poaching ivory in Africa.”


Heart of Darkness

Presented by Opera Parallèle

Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. May 1, 2 and 8 p.m. May 2, 2 p.m. May 3

Tickets: $30 to $85

Contact: (866) 811-4111,

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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