Last Days | The One-Night-Only Presentation of the Opera based on Gus van Sant’s 2005 film at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Written by artist Matt Copson, Music by experimental composer Oliver Leith, and Dressed by Balenciaga

Written by

Palmer Dean

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White clout goggles, the yellow smiley face symbol, and the hit single Smells Like Teen Spirit. It is back to 1991 and the grunge lifestyle of rock band Nirvana and lead singer Kurt Cobain is cooler than ever. The iconic band has left behind an addictive nostalgia for the punk aesthetic of the early 90s but the dark, unspoken history of Kurt Cobain’s suicide is a part of the band’s history that remains an uncomfortable truth. Writer Matt Copson and composer Oliver Leith were unafraid to confront this tribulation. The pair joined forces to create an operatic enactment of Cobain’s final days leading up to his death based on the 2005 film Last Days directed by Gus Van Sant.

The art of opera was created to reenact tragedy and drama through powerful vocalization and costume. While seemingly contradictory to tell the story of a rock band legend through opera, the medium was made to retell brutal truths. Copson and Leith used traditional elements of opera in this performance but also incorporated unconventional elements into many parts of the show, even enlisting Balenciaga for costuming. Watch out opera community, it appears some rule breakers have entered your side of the tracks.

Last Days had its one-night-only U.S. premiere at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on February 6th in Los Angeles. Before it arrived in Los Angeles, the show had four sold-out performances during its world debut at the Royal Opera House in London in October 2022.  Co-creators Copson and Leith were enamored with the spirit of this story and felt compelled to transform it into a live performance.

The show aims to blend the mundane with magic while telling the chronicles of Blake, a tortured artist based on Cobain's persona, who experiences his last few days before committing suicide in solitude at his estate in the woods. A feeling of haziness, reflective of the foggy ordinariness Blake experiences before taking his own life is cast over the audience. Chilling yet alluring, the show transports you into an empty soul. The lead role of Blake was played by Agathe Rouselle, a decision the creators made based on a search for an actor who felt “feral.”

The show is hauntingly beautiful and evocative of the dark complexities of Cobain’s life. Halfway through the opera, Blake, played by Rouselle, places composer Oliver Leith’s pastiche pre-recorded soprano aria Non-Voglio Mai Vedere Il Sole Tramontare (I Never Want to See the Sun Go Down) on to a record player and its hallucinatory sound fills the theater. The scene and sound represent a viciously powerful and gorgeous heroin high and are sung by pop sensation Caroline Polachek.

To add to the show's eccentric and atypical elements, the creators teamed up with Balenciaga to design the costumes. Last Days is the first show the Royal Opera House had done in collaboration with a fashion brand. The firsts go both ways as Balenciaga had never before worked with an opera. Writer Matt Copson worked with stylist Patrick Welde to find a costume that exuded the persona of each character. The two dug through nearly all of Balenciaga’s archives to find the right pieces but were surprised to find that the brand’s newer collections had the most useful clothing for their vision. Blake’s character wears the classically Kurt style with a knit sweater, white sunglasses, leopard prints, and red cardigans. However, Copson and Welde wanted to go beyond the iconic looks of Cobain, they wanted to get funkier. Blake sports an acid-green mohair coat and a bright pink baseball cap. These striking accessories make a state; those who want to remain the most invisible are always the most apparent on stage.

The show undoubtedly bends the rules of opera both stylistically and musically in a bold exploration of mental health and addiction. While we champion the legacy of Cobain, it is important to recognize the challenges he faced throughout his career and life. Copson and Leith have done just that.

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Last Days, opera, kurt cobain, nirvana, balenciaga, Matt Copson, Oliver Leith, Walt Disney Concert Hall