Friday, October 18, 2013

"INVISIBLE CITIES" --- My Reaction

As will be more than abundantly clear very soon, I am not a reviewer, so I won't call this a "review" of  Invisible Cities. It'll be, as the title suggests, simply my "reaction" to experiencing this splendid artistic work. I had the grand privilege of attending, by special arrangement, the dress rehearsal on the evening of Thursday, October 17, and I have to say that it surpassed my expectations.

Let me pause for a second and explain what Invisible Cities is, for those who may not be familiar with it. It is an opera --- but not at all like any opera you've ever seen, heard, or even heard of. I happen to love Grand Opera, but when I think of opera I think of Puccini and Verdi and Wagner and maybe, just maybe, Poulenc. Okay, I admit it: My musical tastes --- well, my operatic tastes, anyway --- are stuck in 19th Century Europe, with a tug or two into early 20th Century Europe or America, but nothing too far out there, thank you very much. Well, Invisible Cities is quite "out there," to be honest.

I'm going to be bouncing all over the place in this post (kind of like Invisible Cities, actually), so let me say this now: I don't think that a person has to be too knowledgeable about the underlying story or stories in order to appreciate this work, any more than I think that someone has to know all about Germanic mythology in order to appreciate the sublime music written for his operas by that horrible antisemite, Wagner (that's another whole story). The music and libretto for Invisible Cities were beautifully written by Christopher Cerrone, based on the strange, superb novel by Italo Calvino. It consists of an Overture and seven Scenes, as sort of a conversation between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, during which the explorer describes various fantastical cities to the emperor. No two people will hear, understand, or experience those descriptions identically, just as the memories themselves morph in the mind of the aged explorer.

"Experience those descriptions." That's the point of the whole thing for me: the experience. First of all is the setting of the performance --- and this was what originally fascinated me: The performance takes place all over Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Did you hear me? I didn't say that it was in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, or Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, or the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, or even in my own church, St. John's Cathedral (which is being reconfigured inside, especially to accommodate this kind of performance); I said, yes, in Union Station. The train station. A...train...station.

True, Union Station is a grand, grand space. It's the last of the great train stations built in the United States, quite a palace or cathedral of Art Deco-Spanish Revival-Moorish architecture. But it is still...a train station, not a theater. And it's in use; there are people coming and going all the time, using Metro Rail or Metro Bus to get around the city, MetroLink to traverse the region, MegaBus or Amtrak to escape to faraway corners of America...and there are lonely people with nowhere else to go, and even homeless people with no place else to rest or sleep. And affluent people dining in the upscale restaurant or enjoying drinks in the bar. It's a busy, bustling place. But --- the setting for an opera?

It works. The fine, small orchestra is in the Fred Harvey Room. The singers and dancers --- yes, the dancers! Dance is an extremely important element of this work --- roam around throughout the vast space, and even into the two outdoor garden areas, and the audience can either stay in one place or follow the actors/singers/dancers, as they prefer. Each person is encouraged to experience and enjoy Invisible Cities as he or she wishes; as the Director, Yuval Sharon, said in introducing it, "There is no right or wrong thing to do."

As I said, while the orchestra is in the Fred Harvey Room, the other performers move around the property, so how does it all come together? wouldn't believe, but through...headphones. Wireless headphones, powered by Sennheiser. Each performer and each audience member has a set of comfortable wireless headphones that deliver clear stereophonic sound. So, while the people going about their business in the station will see and hear only the actors and dancers and a little of the singing, those with the headphones experience the whole rich thing; they hear the orchestra and every one of the singers, brilliantly. It sounds strange --- and it is strange --- but it works.

In the beginning, some of the music is atonal or dissonant, but as the action progresses and unfolds, it becomes more melodic, more lyrical. The final scene, in the grand, cavernous old Ticketing Concourse, is a chorus of ethereal music and lovely dance that closes the work perfectly.

What I attended was only the dress rehearsal, so I can only imagine how magically the performance will unfold over the next few weeks. I am positive, though, that you could attend every single one of those performances, and each experience would be unique. And that, I am sure, is by design.

I can't say enough about this work. And about the people who pulled it all together; I've already mentioned the Composer/Librettist, the Novelist, and the Director. Before I forget (which would be unforgivable), I must mention The Industry and the LA Dance Project Company. I'm not going to name each of the singers, because it would be unfair to name them and not each dancer or orchestra member, as they are all equal partners in this splendid,  splendid enterprise. But I am going to mention one person by name, though --- a person that I've seen day in and day out, running around the station (I do volunteer work there five days a week), and who was all over the place Thursday night, but who wasn't even acknowledged at the end of the performance. He's going to be mortified that I'm mentioning him, but I think that David Mack, General Manager of The Industry, should also be applauded for all the sweat and tears he put into this endeavor. It was a success, David et al.

PLEASE go see Invisible Cities. It runs from October 19 - November 8 (two days after my birthday!), 2013. Go to for ticket information. 

Make it an enjoyable evening: Arrive at Union Station early, either via public transit, or park in the underground parking structure on the east end of the building; then wander around this glorious space. Have drinks in Traxx Bar before the performance you attend; experience the opera; then conclude your perfect evening with dinner, after-dinner drinks, and conversation  in Traxx Restaurant, one of the finest restaurants in Los Angeles. Tara Thomas, owner of the restaurant, will probably be your gracious hostess.

You won't soon forget the experience.

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