Over train's rumble, an opera

The new show produced by one Los Angeles opera company is performed in a train station and allows the public to interact with performers.

Fred Prouser/Reuters
'Invisible Cities'

Pavarotti and New York’s Penn Station don’t share much, but Yuval Sharon and The Industry are bridging the gap in Los Angeles. Imagine a tenor aria soaring above the screech of the 10:30 a.m. train or chiseled dancers dashing by commuters, and you have some idea of “Invisible Cities,” the opera company’s second production.

Performed in historical Union Station without a traditional stage, “Invisible Cities” allows people to engage with the performers as they wander around, all while hearing the orchestra and singers via wireless headphones. For about 70 minutes, the action emerges around the station, with singers and dancers gradually revealing themselves to the audience, who may either stay in place and let the opera flow around them or follow performers from room to room.

The four-week run (recently extended by popular demand) of Christopher Cerrone’s “Invisible Cities,” based on Italo Calvino’s novel of the same name, is a collaboration between The Industry, the German audio company Sennheiser, the L.A. Dance Project (with choreography by Benjamin Millepied), and, of course, the people of Los Angeles, willingly and otherwise.

“The opera [functions] as an invisible layer of everyday life, and every audience member will have a different, radically subjective experience of the opera,” says Mr. Sharon, director of “Invisible Cities” and artistic director of The Industry. “It’s an ideal way to bring Calvino’s masterpiece to life and to hear Chris’s quiet, haunting original score – all while celebrating a landmark of L.A.’s architecture.”

Instead of expensive, elaborate sets and costumes, the level of subtlety and tailoring to a unique environment enhanced by technology may be just what opera needs to thrive in the 21st century. A sobering sign of the times: The New York City Opera, which strove to make opera accessible, filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors in October after a 70-year run.

“Invisible Cities” is not “experimental” in the fashion of Philip Glass’s minimalist abstract opera “Einstein on the Beach,” which recently finished a run a few blocks from Union Station at Los Angeles Opera. Instead, “Invisible Cities” embraces the grand tradition – the music may be sparse and quiet, but invites active listening and participation. The drama is subdued, but sensational and nuanced, and certainly immediately accessible if not utterly visceral.

This isn’t the first time Los Angeles audience members have mingled with opera performers in an unconventional setting. The Industry’s inaugural production, “Crescent City,” took place in a warehouse. This past spring, the company introduced six scenes from up-and-coming composers in another Los Angeles landmark, the Hammer Museum.

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