Reality opera takes you for a ride

Los Angeles’s premier avant garde opera company, The Industry, with their 2013 production of Invisible Cities, a site-specific performance set in the city’s landmark Union Station, redefined what an opera could be.

Directed by the company’s artistic director, Yuval Sharon, based on the Italo Calvino novel and composed by Christopher Cerrone, Invisible Cities saw 200 viewers, listening to live music through wireless headphones, follow performers across the concourse and down the platforms, an immersive, participatory experience that became a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer prize.

After that creative and technical landmark, Sharon felt he had to raise the bar. The result is Hopscotch, which premieres in 24 cars in and around downtown Los Angeles on Saturday November 7.

“Hopscotch really grew out of the aesthetic inquiry we started pursuing in Invisible Cities,” says Sharon, a boyish 36-year-old. “So much of creating art is about trying to correct our view of reality, explore what things would be impossible. So this is really a continuation of that.”

“Impossible” is the right word for Hopscotch, a logistical nightmare of an opera that takes place along three different routes, covering 36 chapters of a story written by six writers and scored by six composers. Twenty-four of the chapters are live, 10 are animated, there’s a car wash interlude and a finale. Each route, carrying four audience members, experiences only eight of the chapters, which are not in chronological order. The cars also contain actors or musicians; sometimes the music will come out of the car stereo. Action occurring simultaneously during the 90-minute performance is broadcast live at a hub in the arts district (where people can watch the show for free), where all routes converge for the final chapter.

Although it may seem mind-boggling on paper, as a spectator it’s not hard to work out a vague narrative concerning Lucha, Orlando and Jameson. Apprentice to Orlando and Sarita, a husband-wife team of puppeteers, Lucha meets Jameson in a car accident. Eventually the two fall in love and settle down, but his work on a brainwave transmitter threatens to ruin their relationship. In time, Lucha is reunited with Orlando, whom she comforts after the death of Sarita.

Real life and performance mingle by chance, to transcendent effect. When Orlando sings a melancholy mariachi farewell to Sarita, she is painted like a Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) ghost, dancing among the gravestones at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights. At a preview, as the lyric “At least we have each other” rises up, we happen to pass a real-life family picnicking near a grave. Later, Lucha sings her quinceañera song lamenting the fact that she must leave childhood behind and become a woman. Quinceañera is a Hispanic tradition of celebrating a young girl’s coming of age – her 15th birthday. We’re stopped long enough at a traffic light to see some tired middle-aged women emerge from a carnicería (butcher’s shop), children and groceries in tow.

“There’s a great quote by Duchamp that says the audience completes the work, and that’s been an inspirational mantra for me and the work we do at the Industry,” says Sharon – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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