Yuval Sharon in black shirt. Below are performers in the opera. Photos by Iris Schneider.
When you or I think about the wonderful diversity of Los Angeles, the alienation of our car culture, the things we think about in solitude, the healing power of love, the muses that inspire us, the musical threads that run through our lives and the serendipity of happenstance, it might be difficult to figure out how all those random concepts might come together. But you and I are not Yuval Sharon.
Sharon thinks that all those things can indeed fall into one category: opera. And for those of us who've never quite understood opera, don't worry. Turns out you can enjoy "Hopscotch," Sharon's latest mobile opera, which takes place in cars driving across Los Angeles, without really ever fully understanding it.
"Our aim is to shift the operatic paradigm," says Sharon. "We hope that in our isolated cars, maybe, hopefully, there is some place where we can all connect. 'Hopscotch' changes the nature of opera and the nature of the spectator and the artist to create a transformed view of our everyday life. The logistics and the art-making meet in something that we hope is very harmonious."
The third opera completed through Sharon's young company called The Industry, "Hopscotch" was pulled together by an impressive array of artists, city bureaucrats, technical support, limousine drivers and community members to create a performance that is part meditation and part mystery. The only certainty is that the piece defies description. I went along for the ride, literally, and was left perplexed and transported -- no pun intended -- in equal measure.
With an ambitious and sweeping production that brings Christo to mind in its scope and bureaucratic challenges, Sharon and his merry band of artists and technocrats take each audience member on one of three totally different rides through Los Angeles via a series of limousines that transport not only the viewer but the performers. At various times on my 90-minute and 5-limousine journey I was serenaded by a troubled woman, a cellist and a handsome reader, a male and then female duo of mariachi musicians, a beat-boxing harpist, a soulful cancionera and a beautiful young woman dressed for her quinceanera who sang to us then stopped at Mariachi Plaza to borrow a book from Libros Schmibros. Needless to say, the real mariachis waiting for work in the plaza were left to wonder just what was going on as our group of four followed in her footsteps, and another set of listeners wandered the plaza wearing Sennheiser headphones that were piping in their particular piece of the story. To be honest, I was wondering too.
But once I let go of the need to know, I was struck by the uniqueness of the experience and the pleasure it brought me. The piece is a celebration of Los Angeles, as the cars thread their way through the three different routes, all within a 5-mile radius of the SciArc parking lot where the piece ends at the "Central Hub." Part of the fun is seeing the LA backdrop roll by out the car window as the scenes unfold. This aspect is central to Sharon's idea that the three main characters in the piece are Lucha, LA and the audience member. And each viewer's experience will be theirs alone.
Our journey, the Red Route, took in 8 of the 24 chapters, and began at the Breed St. Shul, stopped at the the Toy Factory lofts for a rooftop musical interlude, Hollenbeck Park, Mariachi Plaza, Evergreen Cemetery and finally the SciArc parking lot. The ending culminated within that wooden structure of the Central Hub, resembling a bullring, but it became the place where all facets of the main character Lucha's life finally came together as the whole ensemble circled and repeated snippets of their operatic arias. Eventually, the action came to an end, and perhaps not knowing what else to do, the audience erupted in applause. Sharon hopes that if you are curious enough about the linear storyline, you will visit the website or read through your program to learn about it. If not, Sharon encouraged the audience to think of the piece as 24 10-minute operas loosely based on "Orpheus and Eurydice."
In describing their goals, music director Mark Lowenstein said "It is unusual to think of this as an opera because the composer is not in the driver's seat. It is a communal production with different voices swirling together...a kaleidoscopic mosaic, telling the story of one person's life."
Sharon paraphrased a helpful quote from Kierkegaard to help understand the project: "Life can be understood looking backwards. Unfortunately, it must be lived looking forward."
The production runs weekends from October 31-November 13. In addition to the live performances, the animated versions of the show can be accessed thorough HopscotchOpera.com, and video of all the chapters is available and open to the public for free as space permits at the SciArc site of the Central Hub.