Last week, I was lucky enough to attend an intimate preview for “Justice,” a superhero inspired opera in the making.
The project is the brainchild of Armand Ranjbaran, a Juilliard undergraduate who has always dreamed of melding his love of music and superheroes—a strange and truly unique pairing. What I heard was two full-formed movements of a larger prospective work that Mr. Ranjbaran developed along with fellow classmates and baritones, Tobias Greenhalgh and John Brancy.
As a tone-deaf, capes loving fanboy, I was excited to see how an artist would translate the myth making of comics so familiar to me with a form I was not attached to. While comics are ever present in media and pop culture, there is still a palpable (and faulty) divide between the mass appeal of superheroes and the classical, “high art” leanings of opera. I left Juilliard delighted and hopeful. In adapting comics, Hollywood and Broadway most often aim for spectacle. The opera I heard was refreshingly soulful.
Although the sequences I listened in on make no reference to specific characters from the big two, the pieces do a great job summoning the emotions inspired by certain figures. The first movement with its soaring heights and forceful vocal captures the larger-than-life grandeur of god-like characters like Superman. The second work makes an appropriate foil. Its incessant and expansive strings and sorrowful lyrics evoke the dark side of hero-dom seen in Batman and a slew of comic anti-heroes. Mr. Ranjbaran proves himself a true comic fan by setting up this contrast. What is more impressive is how repeated aural techniques tease out the similarities between the dark and light side of heroes. Each movement is vitally about realizing and embracing the role of the hero.
I think I can safely speak for the rest of the comiXology crew in attendance in saying the session was promising. I am anything but an opera buff but the compositions and performances resonated with me and left me wondering about the possibilities of a great comic opera.
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