Appearing at The Ford on August 14 and 15, 2021, the Long Beach Opera, in conjunction with the LA Phil, will present Pierrot Lunaire (1912) by Arnold Schoenberg and Voices from the Killing Jar by Kate Soper, two very different operas sung, directed, choreographed, designed, and conducted by women. Based on 21 short poems by Albert Giraud and featuring soprano Kiera Duffy, Pierrot Lunaire is directed and choreographed by Ate9 Artistic Director, Danielle Agami. Voices from the Killing Jar, featuring vocal artist Laurel Irene, was composed in 2012 by Kate Soper. Directed by Zoe Aja Moore, Voices from the Killing Jar “examines a range of women portrayed in many art forms, from a #Metoo  perspective.  Music for both operas will be performed live by members of the Los Angeles based New Music group Wild UP, conducted by Jenny Wong, Associate Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Long Beach Opera was founded in 1979, making it the oldest operatic producing company in the metropolitan Los Angeles/Orange County region. One of its missions is to “engage people through provocative meaningful experiences that challenge, connect, and inspire”.

Often referred to as Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 (“Moonstruck Pierrot” or “Pierrot in the Moonlight”) Schoenberg’s melodrama premiered at the Berlin Choralion-Saal on October 16, 1912 and had its American premiere on a series organized by the International Composers’ Guild, February 4, 1923 at the Klaw Theatre, on Broadway, New York. This opera is said to be among Schoenberg’s most celebrated and performed works and later used by other 20th century composers. Pierrot Lunaire is a setting of 21 selected poems from Albert Giraud’s cycle of the same name as translated into German by Otto Erich Hartleben during which the singer utilizes a speech-singing technique invented by Schoenberg called Sprechtstimme.

Ate9 Artistic Director Danielle Agami - Photo by Scott Simock

Ate9 Artistic Director Danielle Agami – Photo by Scott Simock

Born in Israel, Agami performed for eight years with Batsheva Dance Company before moving to the US and forming her own company, Ate9, in 2012.  In addition to her site-specific work, she has created over eight complete works, collaborated with numerous local L.A. institutions, and during the pandemic, produced a couple of dance films. Agami was the recipient ofthe 2018 Virginia B. Toulmin Fellowship for Women Leaders in Dance, the 2016 Princess Grace Award for Choreography, and was named Dance Magazine’s Top 25 to Watch in 2015.

Over her career, Agami has choreographed operas on an almost a yearly basis including English National Opera’s production of Orphée by Philip Glass, and Meredith Monk’s Atlas with LA Phil. As noted above, Pierrot Lunaire is directed and choreographed by Agami and performed by members Ate9.  I reached out to Agami for an interview and in spite of her extremely busy schedule, she graciously agreed to a telephone interview; part of which took place while she was driving.

Agami was not familiar with Schoenberg’s opera, Pierrot Lunaire, and this was the first time working with the Long Beach Opera. The process for this project took place over a short six-week period. I asked Agami what drew her to the project.

“The challenge of it,” Agami said. During the productions of other operas that she was acting purely as choreographer, she explained that she always had her own opinions about the world of opera and ideas about the production of opera. “It is the commitment that I made to myself, for just one time to see how it is when I am in control.”

The 21 poems in Albert Giraud’s Pierrot Lunaire are filled with descriptions of moonlight, phrases like “the pale flowers of moonlight”, “A fantastic ray of moonlight”, “Hangs her linen of moonlight, A pallid laundry made”. There is a reoccurring use of the word blood, and of course Pierrot, the popular character of pantomime and commedia dell’arte, whose origins trace back to the late seventeenth-century Italian players working in Paris, and who is often portrayed as a sad clown pinning over his unrequited love for Columbine. Agami did read the poems, but rather than choreograph to them, she let the music guide her utilizing specific words for the poems that she had committed to memory. “The music is the anchor of why and when to do things,” Agami said.

Paul Legrand as Pierrot - Photo by Nadar (circa 1855)

Paul Legrand as Pierrot – Photo by Nadar (circa 1855)

When I inquired about whether or not the opera Pierrot Lunaire had ever included dancers, Agami said that she did not believe so. She watched one video of the opera that include the singer that is performing with them and said that they are very fortunate to be able to work with her. Beyond that, she has not heard anyone mention the use of dancers in any descriptions of the production of this opera. “Now that we have reached the end of the production process,” she said. “I think that the dancing really helps us to hear the music.” She believes that the dance will be extremely beneficial to connect the two.

Agami confessed that when she listens to Schoenberg’s music alone, she is not compelled to dance and that it was a challenging task to create movement to it. The singer, Duffy, will not remain stationery but Agami was not interested in choreographing movement for her. At the time of this interview, the singer had not yet arrived and Agami expressed an interest in how Duffy will react to “so much human presence around her.”

Duffy is normally the only presence onstage during this opera. At The Ford, Duffy will be one of ten people on stage. “I wonder how she will feel,” Agami questioned. “and what freedom it’s going to give her? What volume is going to come out of her when she is not visually protected?

“I do think that we have kept a delicate approach to everything,” she continued. “Everything is joining the music. Joining the scene and not in any way disrespecting the music. If anything, I feel that we are helping it to be heard.”

When I asked about costuming and lighting, Agami said that those elements will be inspired more from the character of Pierrot, and other more playfulness aspects of Giraud’s poems than the moonlight or color images. She mused about how the performance at The Ford will take place outdoors and so that in itself will be enough moonlight.

Agami is certain that her ideas for this project are something that the Long Beach Opera, Wild Up, Kiera Duffy, and conductor Jenny Wong have never done before and that they are curious as to whether or not they can pull it off.  Personally, I believe that if anyone can make a vision into a reality, it is Danielle Agami.


Pierrot Lunaire: Composer: Arnold Schoenberg, Set to the Pierrot Lunaire text by Albert Giraud
Director / Choreographer: Danielle Agami
Conductor: Jenny Wong
Lighting Designer: Pablo Santiago
Pierrot Lunaire: Kiera Duffy
Dancers: Ate9
Chamber Orchestra: Wild Up

In Kate Soper’s Voices from the Killing Jar (2012) the soprano traditionally plays some of the instruments as the piece progresses. Characters examined vary from Emma Bovary to Daisy Buchanan, Isabel Archer to Lady Macbeth. Laurel Irene sings the various roles, which are all directed by Zoe Aja Moore. Soper brings to life “eight famous women from world literature—from Don Giovanni to The Great Gatsby, from Shakespeare to Haruki Murakami—to unravel men’s depictions of women. Each work is a tour de force for vocalists who think far outside operatic conventions”.

Voices from The Killing Jar Composer: Kate Soper
Director: Zoe Aja Moore
Conductor: Jenny Wong
Vocal Artist: Laurel Irene
Set Designer: Tanya Orrelano
Lighting Designer: Chris Kuhl
Costume Designer: E.B. Brooks


WHAT: The Long Beach Opera in conjunction with LA Phil present two operas: Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Kate Soper’s Voices from the Killing Jar.

WHEN: Sat / Aug 14, 2021 – 8:00PM & Sun/Aug 15 ,2021 – 8:00PM

WHERE:  The Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd E, Los Angeles, CA 90068

For Information and tickets please visit and

Gate time for The Ford is 6:30 PM

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image:  Former Ate9 members Ariana Daub and Sarah Butler – Photo by Scott Simock