Monday, October 28, 2013

Plenty Of Movies Have Filmed There, But This May Be Union Station's First Live Opera

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It's a late Saturday night at downtown's Union Station. Travelers (or perhaps they simply have nowhere else to go) are slumped in the train station's waiting room chairs, dozing. Janitors are mopping the station's floors. Traxx restaurant employees are cleaning up. People race to catch the next Amtrak, Metrolink or Metro trains.

Suddenly, one of those travelers -- wearing a bright red vest and carrying a too-small backpack -- stands up and starts singing in a strong, tenor voice. Across the train station, those janitors break into dance.

It's another performance of Invisible Cities, a new opera produced by experimental opera company The Industry and LA Dance Project. For our anniversary, Maria and I were at Union Station on Saturday night to catch a performance -- in the very location of our wedding reception 11 years ago (at the Fred Harvey, which has not changed at all).

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Audience members are handed a pair of wireless headphones, and then directed to the Fred Harvey, where an 11-part orchestra is about to perform.

"Invisible Cities" was composed by Christopher Cerrone, based on the novel by Italo Calvino. The work centers on Kublai Khan and famed explorer Marco Polo. As Khan examines the ruin of his empire, he asks Marco Polo to describe his travels. It makes sense, then, that the story of travel, exploration and the life of a city would be performed at a train station.

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The big revelation of the show is tenor Ashley Faatoalia, a big guy who is dressed like a regular Union Station patron, perhaps looking to board the Metrolink. The first moment you realize that, "nope, he's actually a part of the show," your mind is blown. Faatoalia plays Marco Polo, and you'll find yourself simply following him around by the middle of the show, not wanting to miss a thing. The other breakout performance comes from Cedric Berry, who plays Kublai Khan. Early in the show, Berry is alone, sitting in a wheelchair, appearing to nap. It's interesting to see how long it takes for people to realize he's in the show too.

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Part of the draw of "Invisible Cities" is being completely immersed in a performance while also being surrounded by the real world. Some Union Station patrons are curious of the crowd wearing headphones. Others can't be bothered. Still others start to watch as well, although without sound. (The idea of staging a show in an unconventional public space reminds me of the several performances we've seen from the Collage Dance Studio, including shows at the now-gone Ambassador Hotel and Perino's restaurant.)

"Invisible Cities" has an extremely limited run, with just four performances a week (the final show is Nov. 8). Go here for ticket information.

Meanwhile, take a look at this "making of" video:



And here are more pics from Saturday night:

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Union station

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