Last year, a local opera company called The Industry staged an ambitious and immersive production at Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles — as commuters swirled about, rushing to and from trains.
The opera, "Invisible Cities," was composed by Christopher Cerrone and based on the Italo Calvino novel of the same name. The production challenged the way an audience traditionally experiences an opera performance. It took the genre out of the stuffy opera house and into the hustle and bustle of a working train station.
Now, Cerrone’s opera, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is available as a studio album — the first title to be released on The Industry's new record label.
The Industry’s artistic director Yuval Sharon and album producer Nick Tipp stopped by The Frame studio to talk about adapting the opera for Union Station, translating that experience into an album, and their plan to make opera more accessible.
On how he adapted Christopher Cerrone's challenging opera to Union Station:
Yuval Sharon: I thought, why don't we take that challenge and make an opera that is an immaterial opera, in many ways? Why don't we bring opera into everyday life and make it so that the audience has to find the opera? The ultimate realization of it was hearing Christopher's music on wireless headphones as you wandered through Union Station, with the singers and dancers scattered throughout the entire station. As you moved through the station you would stumble upon maybe someone just waiting on a train, or maybe it happened to be the lead singer of the opera. It was up to you to figure out. There was no one path or one correct way to experience the piece, it was really up to each individual viewer to create their own visual relationship to the music that they were hearing. But everyone had the same aural experience of the piece through the wireless headphones.
On translating the Union Station experience to a recorded album:
Nick Tipp: It's true that we had a lot of incidental sound in Union Station and it helped tell the story, in a way. Everything that people heard reminded them that they're here in the space that they're hearing in their headphones, which I think is really magical. A studio album is completely different. We have total control and in post [production] we spend so much time finessing things. There's no way that a live show can sound as good as a studio album.
YS: And the real advantage is now everybody will get a chance to create their own immersive experience with this opera. You can now download the CD, take it on your own iPhone, bring your own pair of headphones and go to another train station. You'll be able to recreate this experience wherever you go. I think that's a really powerful idea for what the opera is about ... how travel is a metaphor for life, the transitory-ness and the idea of looking at everyday life with this new transfigured way.
On why The Industry started a record label to release "Invisible Cities":
YS: The recording industry is not particularly friendly to artists. It's challenging for artists to really see the reward from the hard work that they put in to both the recording and the creation of the music. We started this company with an absolutely do-it-yourself spirit, so why don't we extend that idea into the recording of the piece? It's had its challenges, but the great thing is that now that recording really belongs to us and we get to share all of the proceeds with the artists from the very first record sale. And all of the additional proceeds will go to support The Industry's future productions, and I'm really excited about that.
On plans to take the opera to other train stations:
We are definitely talking about it very actively with a number of different presenting organizations. One of the main things that we have to think about is a train station that would have the space for what we need. Union Station is so gloriously open and the ability to traverse from inside to outside...was part of the magic of the performance. So it'll have to depend on the time of year, the kind of city, what kind of traffic there is. We looked at one train station in Bordeaux where there was just so much traffic that I actually think it would be enormously stressful to experience the opera in that environment, so all of the elements really have to align. That really is what opera is all about. All of the different aspects need to really come together to form a cohesive unit if it's going to have that magic.