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USB Button Music by Krausas, Lowenstein, McIntosh, Norman, Reid and Rosenboom. The Industry. Texts and translations. The Industry Records TIR003

Recordings Hopscotch Cover 617

LOS ANGELES'S experimental opera company the Industry broke the boundaries of opera in 2013 with its production of Invisible Cities, by composer Christopher Cerrone. In this site-specific work, directed by Industry founder Yuval Sharon, audience members wearing wireless headphones wandered from room to room at Union Station in downtown L.A., watching singers and dancers perform alongside commuters. For the Industry’s 2015 “mobile opera” Hopscotch, the “stage” expanded to encompass the entire city. Sharon dreamed up a scenario based on the Orphic myth, transferring the action to present-day L.A. A bubbly puppeteer, Lucha (standing in for Orpheus), falls in love with a reserved theoretical physicist, Jameson (her gender-swapped Eurydice). The audience traces the course of their relationship through a series of ten-minute vignettes by six different librettists, set by six principal composers. Multiple singers portray the main characters as the scenes unfold simultaneously in various locations throughout L.A., including inside twenty-four cars that transport audience members from place to place. It’s a kind of “choose-your-own-adventure” opera that culminates in a big finale at a bird’s-nest-shaped structure dubbed “The Central Hub.”

Hopscotch garnered ecstatic praise; one critic likened it to a twenty-first-century Ring cycle. But frankly, this release of excerpts from the production (stored on a car-key-shaped USB drive) left me wondering what all the fuss was about. I guess you had to be there. Stripped of the automotive gimmicks and the novelty of viewing an opera on the go, the work shows its many flaws. Sharon and the librettists are mostly to blame; the overarching story that connects the separate chapters relies too much on cheesy tropes from sci-fi flicks and stilted rom-com dialogue. Jameson retreats into his own mind through the use of a brain device, and Lucha must enter her partner’s psyche in order to retrieve him, like Orpheus’s descent into Hell. It feels more like a rip-off of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind than an adaptation of Ovid. A series of spoken tracks help trace the story, though they come across like a child’s read-along audiobook. While many of the poets try to break free from the scenario to write original, thought-provoking text for their individual scenes, they’re held down by the requirement to shoehorn in references to one of the show’s overstated themes—interconnectedness, time as a web, parallel lives and parallel universes.

In many instances, however, the librettist–composer teams manage to generate effective ten-minute numbers using limited instrumental and vocal resources. Employing six composers is actually a plus—it ensures rich musical variety with allusions to contemporary avant-garde composition, popular idioms and the operatic past. The Industry’s music director, Marc Lowenstein, embeds cleverly integrated quotations of Monteverdi’s Orfeo into two of his scenes. In one, with text by Erin Young, Jameson and Lucha wander through Hollenbeck Park as mezzo Stephanie Williams, gliding around on roller-skates, sings a folksy arrangement of “Vi ricorda, o boschi ombrosi,” accompanied by accordion, tuba and sax. Perhaps as a tribute to Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, Andrew McIntosh converts Jameson into a trouser role for mezzo Jessica Mirshak; in a duet, with text by Sarah LaBrie, Mirshak’s voice blends beautifully with that of fellow mezzo Lauren Davis, as Lucha, their lines intertwining and hocketing in a musical depiction of a temporal web. The strongest number has the least to do with the plot: poet Mandy Kahn’s descriptions of undulating interstellar nebulae inspired an ethereal setting by Ellen Reid. Children from New York’s Trinity Youth Chorus execute complex overlapping melodies, accompanied by a cloud of bells, chimes and cymbals that evoke a starry night sky or a Buddhist temple. As an angel, Quayla Bramble lets her radiant soprano hover over this texture in a stratospheric descant.

Unfortunately, many of the tracks were recorded live in cars or at their original performance sites, resulting in poor audio speckled with hisses and pops. The exception is Veronika Krausas’s “Looking Backward,” with text by Tom Johnson, which takes place in Jameson’s mind. Here, the ornate wood paneling and cast-iron staircases of the iconic Bradbury Building’s atrium produce a marvelous echo that lends soprano Delaram Kamareh’s dreamy whole-tone flourishes an otherworldly quality. —Joe Cadagin 

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