As the sun sets each night over Manhattan’s High Line, the sounds of 1,000 opera singers waft through the streets of Chelsea, at least until October 8. The Mile-Long Opera: a biography of 7 o’clock, a co-production between Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang and Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), one part of the High Line's design team, sets human-scale stories against the elevated park’s environs. Poets Anne Carson and Claudia Rankine provided the text for each of the opera's 26 sections, which was distilled in part from interviews with New York City residents on what the twilight period means to them, and DS+R partner Elizabeth Diller directed the show’s staging. The opera, a 90-minute linear amble from the High Line's 14th Street entrance to its West 34th Street terminus, is in content, tone, and setting, about transition: the changing time of day, evolving domestic duties, and the shifting character of New York itself. Audience members are encouraged to walk slowly and weave their ways between the groups of singers, each belting out—or whispering, or chanting—their specific role on loop, unfolding the full experience for guests as they move forward. With each performer cloaked in white light from a luminescent hat, smartphone, backpack, or other piece of everyday wear, the experience can feel at times dreamlike. But the surrounding sounds of the city, walls of new development around the High Line, and Hudson Yards’ looming presence on 34th Street ground the performers in a material setting. Gentrification is not explicitly the Mile-Long Opera’s purview, but, as Diller recently relayed to the New York Times, the changes in the Meatpacking District (some caused by the High Line itself) are highlighted as wistful background threads. The mingling of old and new construction along the park with song lyrics about friends moving away, the L Train shutdown, and passing strangers on the street, are meant to make the audience consider change as a process and not simply get nostalgic for “the good old days.” DS+R and Diller’s involvement in the show’s staging (choreographer Lynsey Peisinger served as co-director) shines through, as both are intimately familiar with the challenges and opportunities of staging a show on the High Line. Marriage proposals waft up from beneath the elevated walkway and flyover, and for the spiraling spur at the park’s end, which butts up against the West Side Highway and an active heliport, performers are clad in reflective jumpsuits and have their voices amplified, one of the only times they compete with the noises of the city. This push and pull of the city, according to Diller in the playbill, makes New York both a backdrop and an antagonist as the audience travels the 30-block-long urban stage. Standby tickets to the Mile-Long Opera are free, but for those who can’t make it before the show closes, a 360-degree virtual reality version of the performance is being uploaded in parts online.
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Toyo Ito’s Metropolitan Opera House has opened in Taichung, Taiwan. The Japanese architect's latest project was ten years in the making, with designs revealed in 2006 and construction beginning in 2009. The six-story complex is 624,000 square feet in size and features a 2,014-seat grand theater, an 800-seat theater, and a 200-seat black box theater, as well as rehearsal spaces and a restaurant. From an engineering perspective, the building is architecturally complex, erected entirely without beams or columns. It relies on 58 curved wall units to achieve its grand, curved interiors. Support for its construction was donated by the city government to the Ministry of Culture in Taiwan, according to Taipei Times. "I aimed to create the architecture of this opera house in such a way that the inside and outside are continuous in a like manner to how bodies are connected to nature through organs such as the mouth, nose, and ears," Ito told Domus. Ito has earned numerous awards for his designs, including a Pritzker Prize in 2013, and a Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture in 2014. The International Museum of the Baroque, designed by Ito, opened in Puebla, Mexico earlier this year. The National Audit Office in Taipei stated that the Metropolitan Opera House will likely run at an annual deficit of $4.7 million, according to Taipei Times. In response, vice supervisor for the theater’s promotional affairs Lin Chia-feng called the government's focus on "profits and losses" a "narrow approach." "The theater also has a mission of assisting and fostering the development of local and national performance troupes,” Lin said.
When one thinks of gardens, lush, fertile and verdant settings with splashes of color usually come to mind. But the Edenic world created in Jennifer Wen Ma’s Paradise Interrupted is black and white. And yet the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Peony Pavilion, and the Garden of Eden were all on Ma’s mind when she conceived the “installation opera” that just opened the 2016 Lincoln Center Festival, which she designed, directed and co-authored. This monochromatic world is inhabited by The Woman (Qian Yi, who the New York Times calls “China’s reigning opera princess”) who, garbed in simple, flowing white and a 3-D printed headdress, awakens from a vivid, rapturous dream of pleasure. By contrast, the real world feels barren and alone, a black stage with black/grey video behind and an outlined square around her, first white and then black. Highlighted by a constellation of light, she follows the Earth’s four wind elements (embodied by four male singers) through a gate into a white space boasting a black line which lifts into a stylized young tree. As the branches multiply and grow, black paper cutout foliage appears to form the origami-like dark lushness that is the garden. Digital fireflies dart and swarm, voice activated in real time by the Woman’s singing. The fireflies coalesce into a man, who then dissipates. Transformation is key—the four Elements become wolf spirits; the tree continues to grow taller and fuller. An ink drop on the ground marks the spot where a large white geometric flower unfolds like a pop-up book, the symbolic fulfillment of the Woman’s paradise, where she once again falls asleep. When she awakes, she is stuck in the flower’s clutches, realizing that desire has imprisoned her. As the Woman frees herself, the flower collapses, the garden deconstructs, black ashes rain down, and the garden returns to nothing. With new clarity, the Woman, in her white gown now with black splotches at the base, rises up from the black ink pool, where she can paint any world she imagines. Ma worked closely with architect Matthew J. Hilyard of FTL Design Engineering Studio to realize the design. Probably best known as Chief Designer for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which earned her an Emmy for the U.S. broadcast, Ma’s interdisciplinary practice bridges video, drawing, performance, public art and fashion design. Those ceremonies could be considered a dry-run for opera. Currently, her work can also be seen at the Cass Sculpture Foundation in West Sussex, England (July 3- November 6) in the exhibition A Beautiful Disorder. Her piece is called Molar (referring to biological mass), a site-specific work that is also about a paradisiacal garden that brings the landscape indoors with an upside-down, suspended black Tyvek tree with flash-spun non-woven HDPE fiber leaves and glass teardrops that drip down from the ceiling and birth a landscape below. Note that the materials are cast-offs from “Paradise Interrupted.” Ma notes that the word “paradise” means “walled enclosures” in Old Iranian, hence her landscape is lined with walls made of mirrored Plexiglas featuring etched trees that form a rectangle filled with 75 kilograms of black Chinese ink and golden-colored glass balls. Here, she also worked with Hilyard. These continue Ma’s garden-inspired artworks, many of which were run-ups to Paradise Interrupted: in 2012 at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, she initiated an opera performance from the Peony Pavilion under her in installation called Hanging Garden in Ink that proved to be a catalyst. The following year at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, she staged In Search of the Garden of Eden. Also, in 2013, Ma was an artist in residence at Performa 13 where she prototyped Paradise Interrupted, which premiered at Spoleto. Other garden-related installations include Pittsburgh’s Market Square (A Winter Landscape Cradling Bits of Sparkle, 2015), the Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair (Who Would have Expected to Encounter Ni Zn’s Gentlemen in S-Chant?, 2011), St. Moritz lakeside (Germinating Thoughts, 2011), and Art Gallery of New South Wales (Petrified Garden, 2010). She has even used the motif in fashion with her Dark Blossom dress (2012) and Hanging Garden Scarf. Another work currently on display is Nature and Man in Rhapsody of Light at the Water Cube at the National Aquatic Center in Beijing by PTW Architects of Australia, built for the 2008 Olympics. In 2013, Ma and lighting designer Zheng Jianwai were commissioned to illuminate the Cube to activate and reimagine the skin of this iconic building. The daily interactive programming for the Cube, which was crafted by video designer Guillermo Acevedo, collects Emojis used on a Chinese website and interprets them using the I Ching; this process uses the same technology he employed for voice activation in “Paradise Interrupted.” Perhaps the water here is nourishing Ma’s gardens. And if you’re in New York on November 11, see Ma at the Asia Contemporary Art Week’s Field Meeting, curated by Leeza Ahmady, at the Guggenheim Museum, where Ma will present a lecture/performance on the four-year long alchemical process of creating “Paradise Interrupted” with another artist playing the voices in her head. In a marked contrast, the fluid, serendipitous, improvisational artist process of her art-making plays out against the codified and rule-based traditions of Chinese opera.
Detroit's 90,000 vacant homes and residential lots have proven to be fertile ground for artistic exploration, giving rise to verdant floral installations and canvases for sought-after graffiti artists. Now architects and artists from The D and beyond hope to turn an abandoned property at 1620 Morrell Street into something truly surprising. Dubbed House Opera | Opera House, the project aims to turn a decrepit, 2,000-square-foot house into a public performance space “where Detroiters could tell stories through music,” according to a Mitch McEwen, the project's principal architect. She spoke to WDET for their story, “From Blight to Stage Right”:
It evolved from a small group of artists in New York to a large group of folks across the country … neighbors have started to talk about performances or people in their families who perform that might get involved. And so we've really expanded from an immediate, emergency kind of dialogue to one that's about culture and talent that's already in the neighborhood, and how it can have a stage there at the House Opera.McEwen bought the two-story home for just $1,200 in a public auction, paid off its delinquent property taxes, and got to work raising money for its second act. So far the project has received financial support from Graham Foundation, Knight Foundation, Taubman College – University of Michigan, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, as well as numerous individual benefactors including Mark Gardner, Theaster Gates and Dr. Larry Weiss.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic has a thing for star architects. As part of a trilogy of Mozart operas directed by Gustavo Dudamel (himself a global celebrity), in 2012 Frank Gehry designed the set for Don Giovanni, in 2013 Jean Nouvel designed one for The Marriage of Figaro, and this month Zaha Hadid Architects has designed the backdrop for Così fan tutee, the trilogy's finale. The firm's curving white design, evocative of a skateboarding bowl (or a Corian sink?), is meant to represent a large sand dune on the Italian coast. It was called "shape-shifting" by the LA Times. Its steep inclines have presented challenges to performers, but they seem to be adapting in rehearsals. Shows begin on Friday. Costumes were created by British designer Hussein Chalayan, who, like Hadid, is known for edgy, tech-heavy designs. And the director, Christopher Alden, is also known for taking risks. It seems like a combination that should stir things up, and perhaps produce a template for still-rare collaborations across disciplines.
This Saturday, January 15, the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra will lift their bows and the ghost of Robert Moses will flood the World Financial Center Winter Garden. Gary S. Fagin composed Robert Moses Astride New York from which the music will be drawn. A vocal performance by Rinde Eckert will accompany the score, but best of all, it's free. The New York Times recently sat in on a rehearsal for the Moses musical with author Robert A. Caro who penned the authoritative tome on New York's Power Broker. The performance includes events from Moses' life and career including a fight over a parking lot at Central Park's Tavern on the Green and Moses' resignation. From the Times:
Mr. Caro said he was particularly pleased by the musical’s last section, which recalls Moses’ dedication of a bench in Flushing Meadows, one of the parks he’d built. It is the poignant scene that concludes “The Power Broker,” in which Moses wonders why he wasn’t sufficiently appreciated.While Robert Moses Astride New York is a work in progress, when complete, Fagin plans to include other pivotal characters from twentieth century New York including activist Jane Jacobs and Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia. The free performance by the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra with Rinde Eckert takes place Saturday, January 15 at 7:00PM at the World Financial Center Winter Garden.
Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, like many of their starchitect brethren, have not had an easy time of late in New York, from the stalling of 56 Leonard to the continuing reconfiguration of the Parrish Art Museum. (Yes, we know everybody's having a hard time of late, but that's a different story.) Well, the Basel-based architects just got their big break, as they say in the theater: a debut at the Met. No, they are not the latest hot shot firm to proffer an addition to the ever-transforming complex. Better yet, they've designed the set for a new production of Verdi's Atilla, which premiers tonight. We're not exactly sure what to make of the ghostly scenery that somehow floats above the chorus, from a forest picnic of sorts to post-apocalyptic-looking ruins (hopefully not the remnants of some failed project). Yet even in this unusual setting, the designer's unusual forms shine. Fashion doing about as well as architecture these days, does it come as a surprise that Miuccia Prada has lent her talents to the costumes? With any luck, Herzog & de Meuron will take over the Oscars next year.