If you travel through Union Station this weekend, you might walk right into the middle of an opera performance and not even realize it. You might even brush it off, thinking you've run into some ordinary wackjobs singing to themselves and dancing at no one in particular. But then you might keep watching and notice something more spectacular afoot.
Saturday marks the opening of 'Invisible Cities', an interactive opera collaboration between The Industry and the LA Dance Company based on Italo Calvino's novel. Offramp's Jerry Gorin spoke with composer Christopher Cerrone, who says that if you're just passing by, expect the unexpected.
How does the opera work?
What we have is a live orchestra who are being amplified and projected into your ears live (through wireless headphones). They're all in a single location, where you'll start, and then you're free to wander the station. Throughout the station you have both opera singers and dancers, who are strategically placed in many places throughout the station. So as you wander throughout the station, sonically you'll hear the exact same work because all the sound is being mixed into your headphones, but the visual experience is at your own discretion.
What happens if the audience bunches up and crowds a certain actor? Might they have to change their routine?
The actors have been prescribed to go about their actions as if no one is there, and unless we have an extraordinarily obstinate audience member, I think they'll all be respectful of the cast. But they're all invited to crowd around as much as they want to. I find, as I walk through dress rehearsals, getting excited to find things as I hear them. When a new cast member comes in singing, I have felt compelled to go find them, because even I haven't discussed with our director, Yuval Sharon, exactly where everyone is at all times. I have a general idea of the trajectory of the show, but I still might go "Hey, I wonder what's going on over here" and then I'll see.
On top of that, what's interesting in the show is that you might see something and not be sure whether or not it's being staged. The show is very much designed to start that way. Discovery is absolutely part and parcel, it's not something that would be an impediment.
You were approached by Yuval Sharon with this idea. Did it make sense at first?
Well I'm from New York, so my idea of a train station was much more Grand Central than it was Union Station. So I think when he told me about Union Station as the setting I was hesitant simply because my default train station is so crowded and busy that it would never be possible. But he took me to LA, and I think the space is, in a sense, underutilized. There's a lot of space in that station-- a beautiful old ticket counter which is not used at all, the Harvey restaurant, the gardens-- and given that Los Angeles is the 2nd largest city in America, it's pretty calm.
What's been the most rewarding part of working on this?
I think the most rewarding part is to see an idea I had many years ago finally realized in a way that makes me very excited. I'd fallen for Calvino's work for years and used his novel as the basis for a number of instrumental pieces before finally deciding to adapt Calvino to opera. We'd done a stage production at Columbia University before this, and it did not feel right. It felt like it was trying to impose a work-- which is not a dramatic work in a traditional sense-- onto a stage, and it felt very flat to me. Whereas now I feel the work is alive and you live in it. To experience it physically felt much closer to what I was hoping to have the opera be in the first place, but it took quite a few years to actually get there.
'Invisible Cities' is a collaboration of Yuval Sharon's The Industry and Benjamin Millepied's LA Dance Project. The show has a limited run from October 19-November 8, and tickets can be found at www.invisiblecitiesopera.com