With Ellen Reid’s incandescent ‘prism,’ an opera composer is born

James Darrah
Los Angeles Times

At 9:45 p.m. underneath Walt Disney Concert Hall, Ellen Reid completed a quadrathlon in nine months, five days, one hour and 40 minutes. It was a world record. Many records were, in fact, broken.

With the premiere Thursday of her stunning first opera, “prism,” by Los Angeles Opera at REDCAT as part of the company’s Off Grand series, Reid became the first composer to have been commissioned by L.A.’s four major classical music institutions — Los Angeles Philharmonic, L.A. Master Chorale and L.A. Chamber Orchestra being the other three. She also became the first composer to have world premieres by all four. She could very well be only composer to have been performed by all four in winter, spring and autumn of the same year (unless unlikely fortune struck for Mozart or Britten). Finally, she is the only female composer to have been performed by the lot.


But “prism” also goes it own 21st-century way. As Perkins proscribes in her libretto, an unseen chorus, called Chroma, represents Bibi’s inner voice; the “action” is carried out by four dancers, not the singers; the lighting design applies the colors as necessary. Darrah, however, directs his attention to dramatic interaction, what works onstage, not the pretentious page.
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