What's that whisper? Wireless headphone opera in busy train station

Mon Nov 18, 2013 12:51pm EST
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It's Friday evening at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, and, like always, commuters are catching trains to their bedroom communities and weekend travelers are jumping on the Pacific Surfliner.

And then there's a less harried crowd milling around the old wooden seats under the arches of the grand waiting room, headphones clamped down over their ears. They are told to respect those using the station, especially the homeless who take sanctuary there and the people running to trains.

A few hundred people are here to enjoy the opera "Invisible Cities" - through headphones - performed by 15 singers and dancers and an 11-piece orchestra throughout the station, even in the Mission-style courtyards.

It is billed as the first large-scale opera for wireless headphones and it may be coming to a train station near you. While the maiden run for "Invisible Cities" ended Sunday after 21 performances, the artists and technologists behind it say other cities like Bordeaux in France are keen to see wireless opera performed in their train stations.

"Invisible Cities" is based on the 1972 novel by Italian writer Italo Calvino, and its music and libretto is written by 29-year-old Christopher Cerrone of New York City. He and director Yuval Sharon, 34, began discussing it in 2008 and by 2012 had settled on an immersive, ambulatory and wireless format.

In "Invisible Cities" Venetian explorer Marco Polo soothes the troubled emperor Kublai Khan, who sees his empire as a "vast and formless ruin," with tales of travels to great cities.

"We decided that the piece, which is so intimate and so warm and so fragile, would best be suited being heard as if it is whispered in your ear," said Sharon, artistic director of the opera company The Industry.

"It is a story that is really meant to take you to a very internal place."   Continued...

Members of the L.A. Dance Project perform the opera "Invisible Cities" at the Amtrak's Union Station in Los Angeles November 15, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Prouser