Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Chris Cerrone's opera "Invisible Cities" based on a "novel" about Marco Polo


Christopher Cerrone has composed a 70-minute opera “Invisible Cities”, which indeed is rather high concept. You have to work to unravel its rewards from what is on the Internet.
 
The basic website is here. The composer has more detailed information about the performance on his personally named site here.

The opera is based on the unusual novel by Italo Calvino. The “novel” (which in concept might remind one of Thomas Carlyle and “Sartor Resartus”) comprises nine chapters where Marco Polo   describes 55 cities, largely to Mongolian emperor Kublai Khan, who faces the political problems of loss of empire. The novel was in turn based on Polo’s “Book of the Marvels of the World”. Polo’s travels in the 13th Century would have been something like space exploration today.  I remember first learning about Marco Polo in third grade.  Ironically, “Marco Polo” is also a California record label that specializes in CD’s of rarely performed late romantic and early modern classical works (often produced in Singapore or Hong Kong).

The opera was originally composed for a more “conventional” stage presentation, and was premiered at the New York City VOX Festival in 2009 at the Kimmel Center.  I missed a chance to see it in NYC in 2011.

The opera (here)  is performed by La Dance at the Union Station in Los Angeles, CA, as “Invisible Cities: An Opera for Headphones” and a deluxe CD is available from “The Industry Records” here. (I didn’t see it on Amazon.) The opera requires four solo voices (SATB), eleven chamber players, and electronics (including percussion).  There are two pianos, one for each half of the orchestra, a harp and gong. It is heavily choreographed, almost as hybrid of opera and ballet.

Over half of the opera’s duration (as performed in Los Angeles in October 2013) can be viewed “free” on YouTube, and I’ll come to how to pay for it in a moment (one should).  “The Industry” maintains the YouTube Channel here.  There are scenes (six) both inside and outside the station, with characters including Khan (Cedric Berry) in a wheel chair with oxygen line, and Ashley Faatoalia as the traveler Marco, and many dancers (one very lean).  The opera on site is to be experienced with wireless headphones.

There is also another channel with the music alone, starting with a five minute “brass” overture (which seems to center around the tonality of B minor, but the opera uses the keys of C and D a lo ; it ends in C, quietly).



Artbound has a “Special Episode” of “Behind the Scenes” here (57 minutes) for KCET  The film explains the concept of the opera thoroughly, with the composer Cerrone often speaking, as well as the director Yuval Sharon.  The numerous “snapshot” cities are reduce to four, with everything in a sense centered on Venice, but with Adelma, at the end, as a metaphor for the end of life.  The two female singers are sometimes shown in humbling roles, as mopping the train station floors.  Cerrone and Sharon explain that the audience experience with headphones runs counter the usual “proscenium” concept of opera (or even arena) and somewhat recreates the big city experience of being “alone together” in a place like LA, especially in a travel terminal.  This is really an outstanding documentary film.  One wonders if the opera could be made into an independent film around the same idea, maybe with snapshots of the cities as separate communities within a larger ashram, almost like destinations in a model world or board game.

I did purchase the soundrack mp3 zip file from the Bandcamp site which is set up to help artists earn a living from their work, by various ways of offering the material and suggesting a price ($9.99 for the soundtrack, but the CD is pricey).  It would be “easier” to purchase this if it were offered on Amazon for cloud rental or purchase, but if so, the KCET documentary explaining it needs to be included.  However, when I purchased it in a Windows 8 environment, the Windows tool would not unpack the folder because the name was too long (as if intended for the Mac).  I'll have to look into this.  Also, Bandcamp uses Paypal's own credit cards (if you want to use a credit card) and invites you to use your Paypal account first.  There seems to be a lot of pressure against working with banks.

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