Production

Invisible Cities

October 19 - November 17, 2013 Union Station, Los Angeles, CA

Music and libretto by Christopher Cerrone
Based on the novel Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Directed by Yuval Sharon
Produced by The Industry and LA Dance Project
Sound powered by Sennheiser

Imagine arriving at a train station and discovering a man singing beautifully to himself. But what if he were singing to 200 people all over the station who were listening to him, seven other singers, and a live orchestra via wireless headphones?

Invisible Cities, set in LA’s historic Union Station, allowed the audience to roam freely through an operating train station, pursuing individual characters or creating their own story. The audience experienced the live performance via Sennheiser wireless headphones surrounded by the uninterrupted life of the station.

Based on Italo Calvino’s beloved novel, Invisible Cities is hauntingly adapted by composer Christopher Cerrone as a seventy-minute meditation on urban life, memory, and human connection. Cerrone’s fragile, quiet score attempts to capture “decaying sounds” through the use of found objects such as instruments and pre-recorded voices interweaving with live voices. For the world premiere, director Yuval Sharon immersed audiences in an unpredictable platform of everyday life, creating an “invisible” production that made each audience member the protagonist of the experience. With performers appearing and disappearing into the everyday fabric of the building, Sharon and choreographer Danielle Agami draw the audience into an uncannily intimate proximity to LA Dance Project and the singing ensemble.

The production was selected to represent the USA in the 2015 Prague Quadrennial, a winner of the 2014 Music Theatre Now Competition, and Cerrone’s score was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Music. An hour-long documentary on the making of the opera for KCET-TV in Los Angeles received a 2014 Emmy Award.

Credits

Creative Team

  • Director Yuval Sharon
  • Conductor Marc Lowenstein
  • Assistant Conductor Andreas Levisianos
  • Choreographer Danielle Agami
  • Lead Sound Designer Nick Tipp
  • Costume Designer E.B. Brooks
  • Assistant Costume Design Kate Fry
  • Sound Designer E. Martin Gimenez
  • Assistant Sound Design Veronica Mullins
  • Projection Designer Jason H. Thompson
  • Properties Designer Sarah Krainin

Cast

  • Kublai Khan Cedric Berry
  • Marco Polo Ashley Faatoalia
  • Woman 1 Delaram Kamareh
  • Woman 2 Ashley Knight
  • Soprano Maria Elena Altany
  • Alto Sarah Beaty
  • Tenor Stephen Anastasia
  • Bass Cale Olson

Orchestra

  • Conductor Marc Lowenstein
  • Trombone Matt Barbier
  • Violin Eric Kim Clark
  • Viola Beth Elliot
  • Percussion Jodie Landau
  • Piano II Clare Longendyke
  • Harp Jillian Risigari-Gai
  • Cello Derek Stein
  • Piano I Richard Valitutto
  • Clarinet Brian Walsh
  • Flute Sarah Wass
  • Horn Jacob Wilder

LA Dance Project Company

  • Founder & Artistic Director Benjamin Millepied

Charlie Anthony Hodges, Anthony Bryant, Aaron Carr, Julia Marion Eichten, Morgan Taylor Lugo, Nathan B. Makolandra, Rachelle Ann Rafailedes, Amanda Kramer Wells

The Music of Invisible Cities was commissioned by Stephen A. Block & Raulee Marcus. Additional Leadership Support Was Provided By Gary & Lolly Brown, Elizabeth & Justus Schlichting, Mary Ann O'connor & Stuart Meiklejohn, and Myrna Cook.

Press

A startlingly ambitious project by the venturesome opera company The Industry. The idea of putting on an opera in a train station where the characters can be nearly indistinguishable from everyday people in the waiting rooms is a strange and alluring subversion.

It would not have been hard for Sharon’s herculean act of coordination and inventive production to overwhelm Cerrone’s delicate and beautiful opera. Importantly, it didn’t. Somehow, even the performance, conducted by Marc Lowenstein, remained sensitive in so intimidating a performance space.

Is This the Opera of the Future? Invisible Cities may be thematically timeless, but it represents the leading edge of operatic innovation — a bold effort to create individualized experiences within the context of a communal performance.

A secret opera erupts inside California’s biggest train depot. I discovered that I didn’t even have to follow the story to have a transcendent experience—it was more like I was stepping in and out of different conversations between the music, the public and the building. I walked outside through the garden, stood in the waiting room with the other passengers; I even sat at the bar in the station for awhile and took off my headphones, jumping along with the rest of the drinkers when a man in a wheelchair suddenly began singing nearby, his vibrato echoing a capella into the arches of the main hall.”

A Welcome Adventure. Cerrone dared to turn something with an abstract, poetic structure into a subtle and beautiful musical meditation on travel, cultural differences, death, and memory. Let’s hope more American composers and librettists challenge audiences with wonderful, new theatrical experiences — as Cerrone and Sharon did.

Christopher Cerrone‘s music is lyrical and rigorous and points the words with skillful felicity and no little gorgeousness. He inventively mimics Calvino’s tone with recurring musical ideas that repeatedly change perspective. He’s undeniably already a composer of considerable gifts.

The Industry director Yuval Sharon, who surmounted unimaginable logistical difficulties to realize this signal cultural event, certainly struck the sweet spot of ballyhoo and artistic accomplishment.

A marvelously inventive theater event. This joint production from The Industry and L.A. Dance Project is a fascinating display of unbounded creativity and talent – and a helluva lot of fun. Eight amazingly nimble dancers execute Danielle Agami’s angular/spasmodic/sinewy choreography on the floor and on top of the ticket counters. Cerrone’s opera is exquisitely orchestrated with a thrilling overture. Sharon, the mastermind behind all of this, wants us to examine our city and imagine a better world for all.

An important work you shouldn’t miss. There’s a delicious, dangerous tension as you discover and imagine both the invisible city of the opera and more importantly the invisible city of Los Angeles. The magic of the piece is becoming aware of the art and life that surrounds us: of engaging the public space of our city as a locus for art making.

The genius of the conceit here is that it forces you to inhabit a space the way we rarely do, curiously, tentatively, with no particular aim. It creates a bond between you and the other headphone-wearing audience members. It made you pay better attention to the random other humans who happened in on the experience, as they gazed with wonder or concern or even disinterest at those dancers writhing on the floor of the terminal.What’s most wonderful about Invisible Cities is how it uses technology to unite us in an odd, wordless way.

Endless possibilities. Endless experiences. I stood next to Ashley Faatoalia, who played Marco Polo, no more than an arm’s reach away. I watched as he softly bellowed his lines into my headphones. I took them off to hear the raw talent of his voice. I turned to watch the choreography Danielle Agami created for the undead dancers in front of us. There were no rules. No wrong way. Just an experience that I undoubtedly won’t forget.

In an era of digitally projected IMAX 3D movies, on-demand television and hyperrealistic, open world video games, the centuries-old art form of opera might appear to have become something of a technological relic. But in an effort to breathe new life into the medium, a trio of companies has come together to create something never before attempted: an opera whose soundscape exists entirely in the audience’s headphones, and a performance that bleeds directly into the physical space of its surroundings. The line between performer, audience member, and onlooker blurred; the experience was somewhere between a traditional opera, an alternate reality game (ARG), and a piece of high-tech performance art.

Sennheiser lends its world leading ability in sound technology design with wireless earphones that ensure the highest listening experience for the audience while allowing them free movement within the space. The technology is crucial to the experience, the earphones ‘isolate’ a group from the work-a-day world, uniting them in a creative, imaginative experience expressed through story, music and dance. Innovation in every respect, this type of performance wouldn’t have been possible even ten years ago.

Sennheiser Powers First ‘Wireless’ Opera in LA. Senneheiser, a leader in wireless equipment for live events, provided key components to ensure that this 70-minute production, from capture to delivery, was as clean and uninterrupted as possible in a large, RF-heavy environment. The vocal performances were captured with Sennheiser’s Digital 9000 Wireless Systems, transceiving uncompressed signals with great dynamic range. Each performer also received customized audio feeds of vocal and orchestral buses, powered by Sennheiser’s 2000-series IEM systems, to make sure everybody was on the same page. This preparation ensured the best accompaniment possible for a mesmerizing evening. Highly recommended.

The Industry, L.A. Dance Project and audio specialist Sennheiser push the boundaries of art, imagination and wireless technology for an unprecedented, interactive dramatic experience, allowing the audience as well as by-standers in Los Angeles’ Union Station. I was totally immersed in the moment, feeling a part of the scene as if the spirits were singing only to me and I was a part of them. I know other audience members were taking photos of the moment and I can only imagine the look of wonder on my face.

The hottest ticket in town. A movable feast: you’re encouraged to wander under the train station’s noir-glam arches and through manicured grounds, where performers are waiting for you to discover them. You might happen upon pirouetting dancers from Benjamin Millepied’s LA Dance Project. Or find a soprano warbling in a corner, her voice amplified by a hidden microphone into your headphones. It’s the high-concept project of director Yuval Sharon, whose fledgling company The Industry is fresh from wowing audiences last spring with a different production. This time the work is even more ambitious. Finally, someone who’s made opera accessible and fun.

Charismatically disorienting and downright dazzling. 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. The Industry is director Yuval Sharon’s upstart Los Angeles opera company devoted to deconstructing the traditional modes of contemporary opera staging.

(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.)