BWW Reviews: INVISIBLE CITIES Offers a Total Immersion Experience at Union Station
INVISIBLE CITIES, the world's first large scale opera for wireless headphones, is being staged by The Industry, L.A. Dance Project and audio specialist Sennheiser to 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 - the largest railway terminal in the western United States - a chance to become totally immersed in the site specific opera.
The INVISIBLE CITIES opera, written by Christopher Cerrone and based on the 1972 novel by Italo Calvino, combines historical fiction with surrealist elements to create an invisible opera for wireless headphones. The opera's narrative, which centers on explorer Marco Polo's descriptions of fantastical cities to Emperor Kublai Khan, transforms Calvino's novel into a unique experience for each participant - combining a classic art form with the ultimate in technology.
While INVISIBLE CITIES is an opera at its essence, it is unconventional in many ways. For example, there is no opera house and no assigned seats. Also, whereas audience members at a conventional opera typically rely solely on natural building acoustics to hear an operatic production, INVISIBLE CITIES uses wireless headphones, so audience members are intimately connected to the storyline on a deeply personal level while having the ability to roam freely as the opera moves throughout the terminal.
An 11-piece orchestra consisting of strings, brass and percussion performed the original score which was shared with the dancers and performers in the production via their wireless headsets. As they moved from room to room, each of the eight singers was able to listen to their performances and director cues using Sennheiser's world-class in-ear monitoring system (IEMs). The performance audio was sent to a multi-channel digital console, where it was mixed and broadcast via wireless RF technology to attending patrons, each wearing wireless headphones.
After meeting the orchestra and experiencing the deeply emotional overture in person, the audience was set free to roam and follow any of the characters or to simply choose a spot to sit and wait for the action to come to them, all the while listening to the full score on wireless headphones. Thus the opera was heard within the mind of each audience member, each of us involved our own unique experience while listening and walking around the station following which actors or dancers tickled our fancy or crossed our path. As you walk from room to room, you might just walk into the middle of a dance or confrontation between two characters. And even if you cannot see the person singing into your ears, you definitely are experiencing whatever part of the story you happen to encounter from moment to moment.
At one point, I found myself walking in a procession next to Marco Polo (Ashley Faatoalia) as he escorted Emperor Kublai Khan (Cedric Berry) through a garden, singing about his fantastical home city of Venice, Italy. Eight dancers in elegant masks surrounded us and even though there were many audience members watching the scene, in that moment I felt as if Marco Polo was only singing to me as I walked with him through the garden. And then he was off to another place.
Later while I was leaning on the information desk watching Marco Polo singing to a group of travelling spirits, in an instant they were dancing around the desk and then ran up next to me, surrounding me on both sides, leaning on the desk with me. Again, 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.
"Art-making is not just about great ideas but about ingenious execution - making a vision something real," commented Yuval Sharon, artistic director, The Industry. I certainly can attest to the real nature of this work, so much so that even by-standers in the station without headphones could be seen following the action, enjoying the artistic vision and highly stylized dancing, even without hearing the music as the words being sung were also displayed on the wall above our heads in the main waiting room of the terminal. I am sure many of the homeless who are allowed to stay inside Union Station until 1:30am will remember the experience of having such beautiful artistic work made available to them, opening their eyes to the possibilities and wonder that can happen so unexpectedly in life.
"Our world is characterized by fast-paced, interactive communication and consumers seek experiences that touch them in a much deeper and more meaningful level. INVISIBLE CITIES caters to this desire and delivers a truly innovative performance to its audience," commented Stefanie Reichert, director strategic marketing, Sennheiser. I agree with her wholeheartedly. It is shame the run is sold out, but if you do not have tickets just go to Union Station, sit and be part of the wonder going on all around you during the performances.