Union Station's the Stage In New Opera Production
It's tempting to call The Industry's daring new opera event, "Invisible Cities," performed in the public areas of LA Union Station, a flash mob—except flash mobs don't sell out tickets way in advance. And while you actually could just show up and watch what's going on at any performance even without buying a ticket, the headphones you need in order to listen to the opera are all already reserved for the rest of the run (except for two just-added performances coming up this Sunday).
Let us explain.
"Invisible Cities" is a new operatic work by young New York composer Christopher Cerrone. The Industry is director Yuval Sharon's upstart Los Angeles opera company devoted to deconstructing the traditional modes of contemporary opera staging. In this production, audience members independently wander around the train station and happen upon body-mic'd singers and dancers performing, usually simultaneously, in different areas in and outside the building. Equipped with high-tech wireless headphones, we can always hear everyone at once, even as for most of the performance we can almost never see everything that's going on at any given time. While the orchestra's seated in its own room set apart from the building's main traffic areas, some of the singers may be performing in one of the station courtyards as others sit at a table in the Traxx restaurant and a coterie of dancers has taken over the main waiting room.
Union Station itself remains open for business and fully functioning during these performances. And part of the intriguing scavenger hunt for performers interspersed among the station's evening and late-night denizens is occasionally discovering that that woman wheeling her suitcase to catch a train, those two maintenance workers mopping the floor or that down-and-out-looking man in the wheelchair are indeed performers rather than unsuspecting onlookers.
Of course, the station is also full of genuinely unsuspecting onlookers, too, some waiting for trains to take them home, others apparently taking advantage of the warmth and shelter that the public facility offers. So even though we're there to witness the production, it soon becomes viscerally clear that our group of around 160 ostentatious headphone-wearing cultural consumers is very much a part of the spectacle for those who just happen to be in the station during performance times.
(At the particular performance we attended, it was particularly gratifying to see a young woman carrying a toddler become absolutely entranced by the surprise performance suddenly going on around her. Exclaiming that she'd "never seen anything like this," she and her young son joined the crowd walking from one part of the station to another where the performance was going on, and members of the audience intermittently took turns lending her their headsets so she could experience the full dynamic of the production. Really a heartwarming civic moment.)
And—oh, yeah—there's an actual opera being performed here, too. Adapted from the Italo Calvino novel of the same name, Cerrone's "Invisible Cities" features Marco Polo (Ashley Faatoalia) regaling the emperor Kublai Khan (Cedric Berry) about his travel adventures and the cities he's seen. Truth be told, it took us a while to tune into the opera's dramatic content as we ourselves embarked on the adventure of encountering this audacious production, although the performers themselves were consistently captivating and Cerrone's music effectively accompanied both our initial disorientation and our gradually increasing involvement in the work.
Union Station's architectural splendor provides a worthy setting for this one-of-a-kind production, the Industry's second after 2012's less satisfyingly experimental "Crescent City." As in that staging, Sharon in "Invisible Cities" reveals his intention not to provide a uniform viewing experience to his assembled audience members. In "Crescent City," performed in a cavernous space with half a dozen different set pieces, those in different seating areas saw different events get played out. The current production takes this approach a step further as each mobile audience member is blatantly encouraged to select the elements of their own spectacle. The effect is now both charismatically disorienting and downright dazzling.
Tickets to an added 9 p.m. Sunday, November 3, performance of "Invisible Cities" go on sale tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. 80 free tickets to an added 6 p.m. show this Sunday will be distributed at Union Station's Old Ticket Counter starting at 5:30 p.m. (The line will officially start forming at 3:00.) All other performances--at 7:30 and 10 p.m. tonight, Thursday (Halloween), November 5, November 8, November 12 and November 15 and at 5 p.m. on November 17--are sold out.