Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The New Yorker Exposes the Genius of Yuval Sharon, the Industry Opera Company and the Future of Los Angeles

Parts of “Hopscotch” are staged inside a fleet of limousines. 
Other scenes take place on rooftops & in city parks.  Photo by Angie Smith for The New Yorker
More than any other major world city, Los Angeles has been created, built and inspired by individuals. Individuals who came here looking for a dream or came here looking to make a dream come true or who came here expecting to retire and only then realized what they had really wanted to do with their lives.

And then there were those who  just somehow ended up here by good or bad luck  (one early example being captured pirate Joseph Chapman, a Boston Yankee who became LA's most valuable citizen in the 1820's and 1830's) - and then realized they could do things here they couldn't do anyplace else.

And when I first met Yuval Sharon in 2012, I instantly knew he was one of these individuals.  As for who  he is and why you should celebrate his adopting of our city as his home, I'll leave that to the first few paragraphs of Alex Ross's story in the New Yorker - which then continues on the New Yorker's web site.

Opera on Location

A high-tech work of Wagnerian scale is being staged across Los Angeles.


Jonah Levy, a thirty-year-old trumpet player based in Los Angeles, has lately developed a curious weekend routine. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, he puts on a white shirt, a black tie, black pants, and a motorcycle jacket, and heads to the ETO Doors warehouse, in downtown L.A. He takes an elevator to the sixth floor and walks up a flight of stairs to the roof, where a disused water tower rises an additional fifty feet. Levy straps his trumpet case to his back and climbs the tower’s spindly, rusty ladder. He wears a safety harness, attaching clamps to the rungs, and uses weight-lifting gloves to avoid cutting his palms.

At the top, he warms up on his piccolo trumpet, applies sunscreen, and takes in views that extend from the skyscrapers of downtown to the San Gabriel Mountains. Just after 11 a.m., he receives a message on a walkie-talkie. “The audience is approaching the elevator,” a voice says. A minute or so later, figures appear on the roof of the Toy Factory Lofts, about a thousand feet away. Levy launches into a four-minute solo: an extended trill, rat-a-tat patterns, eerie bent notes, mournful flourishes in the key of B-flat minor. On the distant side of the lofts, a trombonist answers him. Then Levy sits down in a folding chair and waits a few minutes, until the walkie-talkie crackles again. He performs this solo twenty-four times each day.

Levy is one of a hundred and twenty-six musicians, dancers, and actors participating in “Hopscotch,” a “mobile opera” that is running in L.A. until November 22nd. It is the creation of a company called the Industry, which has drawn notice for presenting experimental opera in unconventional spaces. “Hopscotch” is its most ambitious production, and one of the more complicated operatic enterprises to have been attempted since Richard Wagner staged “The Ring of the Nibelung,” over four days, in 1876. Audience members ride about in a fleet of limousines, witnessing scenes that take place both inside the vehicles and at designated sites. Three simultaneous routes crisscross eastern and downtown L.A. Six principal composers, six librettists, and a production team of nearly a hundred have collaborated on the project, which has a budget of about a million dollars. It is a combination of road trip, architecture tour, contemporary-music festival, and waking dream.

The title “Hopscotch” is borrowed from Julio Cortázar’s 1963 magic-realist novel, which invites the reader to navigate the text in nonlinear fashion. The opera’s itineraries also jump around in time, and, because of a system of staggered departure points, each group of limo passengers experiences the work in a different way. Fortunately, the story is simple enough so that you can easily follow what’s happening at any given point. It is a modern fable, with overtones of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice—and with the genders reversed. Lucha, an artist and puppeteer, marries a motorcycle-riding scientist named Jameson, who loses himself in esoteric research and disappears. Lucha hallucinates an encounter with him in the underworld. Unlike Orpheus, she overcomes her grief and finds happiness with Orlando, a fellow-puppeteer. In the Toy Factory Lofts scene, called “Farewell from the Rooftops,” Lucha achieves resolution. Jonah Levy is a fading image of the missing husband, his sombre costume identical to one worn by performers portraying Jameson elsewhere.

“Rooftops,” which has music by Ellen Reid and a text by Mandy Kahn, lasts about ten minutes. Upon arriving at the Toy Factory Lofts, you are greeted by Marja Kay, the singer playing Lucha in the scene, and by a violist. “I set you free, Jameson,” Kay sings, though restless viola patterns indicate lingering tension. (Nineteen women embody Lucha in the course of the opera, each wearing a yellow dress.) By the time you reach the roof, two French-horn players and a violinist have joined the group.

Outside, you experience a thrilling expansion of visual and acoustic space: the ensemble mingles with the ambient rumble of traffic and helicopters. Kay points to the ETO Doors building, and Levy enters the fray, his music suggesting fanfares being pulled apart and blown away by the wind. Kay points in the opposite direction, cueing the trombone. Eventually, she bids farewell to the Jameson figures and descends the elevator in a buoyant mood. “I feel my powers now,” she sings. “This city is orchestral—I lift its baton.”

The phrase is an apt motto for “Hopscotch.” Scenes unfold on the steps of City Hall, in Chinatown Central Plaza, in Evergreen Cemetery, and at the Bradbury Building, the Gilded Age structure whose darkly opulent iron-and-marble atrium appears in “Blade Runner” and many other films. The topography ranges from the verdant summit of Elysian Park to the bleak concrete channel of the Los Angeles River.


And there is much, much more at THE NEW YORKER

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