The opera “Invisible Cities” is a brand new piece performed in Union Station in Los Angeles. What makes it different from other live performances is its reliance on technology to bridge the gap between audience members and performers.
Most of us, upon seeing someone wearing headphones in public, assume that the wearer is tuned out from the rest of the world, immersed in his or her own soundtrack. But in “Invisible Cities,” audience members are listening to the sounds coming from microphones attached to the performers in the station. Because of strategically-placed antennae, the audience member’s experience differs depending on their physical location. Although they are in their own world and all have different perspectives of the performance, the audience members and performers all know that they are watching the same thing. As director Yuval Sharon puts it in an article from Variety, “…we can have experiences that allow us to be individuals and allow us to be in our own isolated world, but among a larger group, and allow us to also notice the world around us in an even more powerful way.”
“Invisible Cities,” which has no set plot, instead following Marco Polo’s descriptions of new cities, was meant to challenge the stereotype that technology only serves to distance us from others. It can also bring us together in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. According to the article in Variety, there were various reactions to the performance. Some audience members removed their headphones, and some shared them with passerby. The performance attracted some unsuspecting bystanders but most ignored the spectacle to go about their day. One even decided to join the performance by stepping in with some of the dancers.
According to the organizers, there is no right or wrong way to see the show. They claim that shows like this, which happen in unconventional places and utilize technology, are the future of opera. I am not so sure. Audience members who know about this kind of thing beforehand might find it interesting, but I don’t think that passerby in a busy city will be willing to interrupt their schedules to stop and watch. Part of me thinks that it is an interesting and fresh new idea, and part of me thinks it is in danger of becoming an annoyance. Surely, though, as an example of an old form of music embracing new technology and culture, this is a step in the right direction.