Where else could one find a yogini singing Mozart‘s Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute but in John Cage‘s 1987 Europeras 1 & 2 , as staged by the brilliant Yuval Sharon, he of the avant-garde opera troupe The Industry, and in collaboration with the magnificent Los Angeles Philharmonic. Performed on Sony‘s Soundstage 23 on the Culver City lot, this was a daring, wildly amusing and wholly relevant mashup of music, costumes, sets and, well, chutzpah.
An escape – of sorts – from the devastating mass shooting that had taken place in Thousand Oaks, coupled with the raging, relentless and horrifying fires all over California last week – there was plenty to think about while listening to dozens of singers and musicians each playing and vocalizing in this long overdue West Coast premiere. Commissioned by Frankfurt Opera as part of Cage’s 75th birthday, the work featured arias from no less than 50 operas, with the orchestral parts north of that.
Sharon, who gave the world Hopscotch, an opera performed in and around 24 limousines in 2015 and last year’s War of the Worlds, made use of Sony’s costumes, props and painted backdrops, while the acoustics of the space were pristine, with the members of the L.A. Phil New Music Group seated in two groups on either side of the stage. And though Marc Lowenstein was credited with music advisor, there was no conducting, but instead the musicians and singers – and six dancers – were guided by large digital clocks. In addition, there was a tape collage of 101 operas also playing simultaneously, if only occasionally. In other words, we were awash in sound, glorious sound.
This being Cage, of course, nearly two dozen singers had been asked to select arias from operas in the public domain, with computer-generated chance operations based on coin throws for the Chinese fortune-telling book, I Ching, to determine when said music was to be sung, as well as what the lighting, costumes and sets would be. This writer was content to recognize such favorite tunes as the Toreador Song from Carmen emanating from a singer dressed as a barber and a soprano warbling Song of the Moon from Dvořák‘s Rusalka.
There was also a chef on skis, a pussy hat-wearing chanteuse, a blind military man, a dude in a bathrobe pushing a lawn mower, a grieving woman serenading a body in a casket, a Harpo Marx-type artist painting on a make-shift easel and a Tosca-esque diva singing Vissi d’arte. And the list goes on…
Experiencing the Sunday performance (the last of three), seemed a good way to face the world again. And if the physical traumas that were unleashed upon California last week seemed unnecessarily cruel, there was at least some good news: The mid-term election had the Democrats winning back the House. Of course, it’s now recount time and one has to wonder what Cage would have thought – was this random or inevitable?
All photos by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging; @mathewimaging