The Pocket Opera Company of Chicago wants to take new operas to the masses. Though the four works it has performed since 1993, all by founder and U. of C. professor John Eaton, are pretty highbrow adaptations–of material like Don Quixote and the Book of Genesis–the company’s stagings have been daring, cheap, and portable. Instead of a full orchestra, Pocket Opera uses an ensemble of 13 musicians and singers; its set designers rely on projected images and inventive lighting; and the most you’ll pay for a ticket to this week’s double bill is 20 bucks, less than a sixth of the top rate at the Lyric. There’s no orchestra pit, either–the instrumentalists, in costume, step in and out of the action, doubling as actors or even as singers. A flutist doesn’t always make the best soprano, of course, and Eaton’s dramatic sense can be uneven, but his distinctive music helps compensate for the ragged edges. Derived partly from the precedents of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, his impassioned and imaginative style also includes jazz elements, microtonal embellishments, and live electronics (he helped design something called the Eaton-Moog Multiple-Touch-Sensitive Keyboard, which is nearly as expressive as a human voice). Though almost devoid of conventional melodies, his compositions are strikingly colorful–he employs a rich variety of vocal gestures, and often uses off-pitch sounds to convey a character’s emotional instability. A few of the 16 operas Eaton has written were staged at Indiana University while he taught there, but after the school balked at the content of his The Reverend Jim Jones, he says, he started looking for a new job. And either despite or because of their originality and boldness, not one of his operas has been mounted by a major house. This program features two of his latest: Antigone and Travelling With Gulliver. Antigone is set to a libretto by director and classics scholar Nicholas Rudall; Gulliver, directed by Curt Columbus, features a libretto by Estela Eaton, the composer’s daughter. The musicians include mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley, clarinetist Eric Mandat, percussionist James Boznos, and cellist Craig Trompeter. Cliff Colnot conducts both operas. Thursday, December 9, through next Saturday, December 11, 8 PM (with a 3 PM matinee of Gulliver on Saturday), auditorium, Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State; 773-702-8577. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jason Smith.