An Opera About Colonialism Shows How History Warps

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lennygoran
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An Opera About Colonialism Shows How History Warps

Post by lennygoran » Sat Feb 29, 2020 9:57 am

I don't know about this one? Regards, Len


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An Opera About Colonialism Shows How History Warps

“Sweet Land,” in a Los Angeles park, is a parable for our time about Hosts and Arrivals.


By Joshua Barone

Feb. 28, 2020

LOS ANGELES — This city likes to pretend it has no history, Yuval Sharon said on a recent afternoon while standing across the street from a place called, yes, Los Angeles State Historic Park.

But history is here. For a long time the land on which this park now sits, not far from the forest of skyscrapers downtown, was a rail yard known as the Cornfield. Nearby, a mob of white people lynched nearly three dozen Chinese men and boys in 1871. Before colonialism and westward expansion, it was a flood plain and the site of an important Tongva village.

“There’s a kind of amnesia here that’s celebrated,” said Mr. Sharon, a MacArthur “genius” grant-winning opera director. “I think that more than ever now, we need a sense of reckoning with our history. And how can art play a role in that?”
ImageThe production features ephemeral architecture throughout the park.
The production features ephemeral architecture throughout the park.Credit...Michael Christopher Brown for The New York Times

He doesn’t necessarily have the answer. But the new opera “Sweet Land,” which premieres on Saturday at the park, is an attempt by Mr. Sharon — along with a team of collaborators and his innovative company, the Industry — to at least start a conversation.

A head-spinning abstraction of colonialism and whitewashed mythology, “Sweet Land” has been described by its creators as “an opera that erases itself.” It achieves an effect not unlike that of traveling back in time to witness the first Thanksgiving, then returning to the present to hear its story warped through the traditional, wholesome retelling.

Every Industry production — including “Invisible Cities,” which unfolded at Los Angeles’s Union Station, and “Hopscotch,” set in 24 cars driving around the city — has collaborative practice at its core. Mr. Sharon’s “Sweet Land” partners include, as co-director, Cannupa Hanska Luger, an interdisciplinary artist who was raised on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota; Raven Chacon, a Navajo composer and installation artist; Du Yun, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Chinese-born composer; Aja Couchois Duncan, a librettist and writer of Ojibwe descent; and Douglas Kearney, an African-American poet and librettist.

“We’re Noah’s Ark,” Ms. Duncan said. “Two librettists, two composers, two directors.”


Each pair includes a newcomer to opera, which Ms. Du described as an opportunity “to listen to a culture that is not our own.” Mr. Kearney, who has worked in the form before, said that writing with Ms. Duncan, who hasn’t, has forced him to think more critically about the function of a libretto.

The artists have proposed a new myth about two groups, the Hosts and Arrivals — reminiscent of the American experience, but also universal. (The piece’s relationship to the United States, however, is undeniable: Think “sweet land of liberty.”)

“We are all from somewhere,” Mr. Sharon said. “Everyone has been either the colonized or the perpetrator.”

Abstraction, he added, helps refocus history. “That’s where it feels more closely related to the strategies in science fiction,” he said, “which are always so political and give you the right tools to understand the present.”


The “Sweet Land” librettos are placeless and poetic; the music is reminiscent of known styles, but heard as if through a prism; the colorful costumes are works of arresting fantasy. The sets are ephemeral architecture erected in the park — confronting, Mr. Sharon said, “the illusion that we’ve always been here, not nature.”

As in previous Industry projects, which have explored the possibility of individual audience members having vastly different experiences, the plot of “Sweet Land” isn’t straightforward. About 200 people gather at the start inside a pop-up space modeled on the Amargosa Opera House, an unlikely theater plopped into Death Valley, Calif. After an introduction — composed by Mr. Chacon and Ms. Du and depicting the Arrivals, well, arriving — the audience is divided onto two tracks, each leading to a separate theater and story.

One is called “Feast,” written by Ms. Du and Ms. Duncan about welcoming the Arrivals; the other, “Train,” is by Mr. Chacon and Mr. Kearney and about something like Manifest Destiny. Each, Mr. Luger said, is “closer to what the reality might have been, at least in terms of the emotional intensity. It’s much more visceral. It really does not hide away from the violence, the lust and sexuality. And the displacement.”

In these scenes, Mr. Chacon and Ms. Du avoided quoting specific Indigenous musical styles. Still, there are echoes of them, such as in the vocal technique for Makwa, one of the Hosts; there are parodic evocations of Western opera, as in an Arrival’s recitative, delivered in countertenor voice with Baroque accompaniment.

After “Feast” and “Train” are over, the audience is reunited outside at what’s called “The Crossroads,” a space of images projected onto mist. A chorus tells the crowd to “go back to where you came from” — a double-edged phrase that echoes President Trump yet is also a practical instruction to return to the theaters where “Feast” and “Train” took place.

Those spaces have been transformed; “Feast” now looks more like a Golden Corral, and “Train” features a group of House Hunters. In the second-part pieces that follow, Mr. Chacon and Ms. Du have switched tracks, letting each composer respond to the other’s initial work. The stories the audiences heard in the first part are repeated, but now in an oddly mythologized way — with the exception of a character returning from each original story, flustered and trying to be heard, yet not acknowledged.

“It’s what we’ve all been told in school,” Mr. Luger said. “But we’ve left the characters that have been redacted. So you can tell the story isn’t all there.”


If all of this sounds confusing, that’s the point. “I hope it’s frustrating, in the best way possible,” Mr. Sharon said. “That’s what should be the catalyst for the self-examination that we want the audience to come into.”

The audience’s response is crucial for the opera’s ending. As the listeners are reunited back in the first theater, it’s up to them to make sense — with one another — about what they have just seen.

Mr. Sharon doesn’t recommend trying to see both the “Feast” and “Train” tracks. “I like the idea that another person’s experience is actually really cut off from yours until you make the effort to inquire about it,” he said. “The audience has to complete the work.”

Mr. Luger interjected: “And that is how you turn it into a myth.”

Sweet Land

Saturday through March 15, Los Angeles State Park; theindustryla.org.



https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/28/arts ... opera.html

barney
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Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: An Opera About Colonialism Shows How History Warps

Post by barney » Sat Feb 29, 2020 5:21 pm

I'd like to see that. It sounds fascinating and inventive, and not entirely wrapped up in proving how evil white people are. Because people are people everywhere.

lennygoran
Posts: 15622
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Re: An Opera About Colonialism Shows How History Warps

Post by lennygoran » Sun Mar 01, 2020 7:40 am

barney wrote:
Sat Feb 29, 2020 5:21 pm
I'd like to see that. It sounds fascinating and inventive
Barney if it came to NYC I guess I'd have to consider it-there probably are many spaces where if could be held that would provide a similar type backdrop-a lot would depend on how much they would charge. Regards, Len

barney
Posts: 3866
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: An Opera About Colonialism Shows How History Warps

Post by barney » Sun Mar 01, 2020 7:57 am

Good point, Len!

lennygoran
Posts: 15622
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Re: An Opera About Colonialism Shows How History Warps

Post by lennygoran » Tue Mar 10, 2020 9:56 am

lennygoran wrote:
Sat Feb 29, 2020 9:57 am
I don't know about this one? Regards, Len

Now it's been reviewed. Regards, Len


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Review: An Opera Erases and Rewrites the American Myth



By Zachary Woolfe

March 9, 2020

LOS ANGELES — A light-rail train barrels along the curving west edge of Los Angeles State Historic Park, a spit of land here just north of Chinatown. It roars by so close that it feels like the audience watching “Sweet Land,” the bewildering, ghostly new opera being put on in the park, could reach out and nearly touch it.

The train becomes almost a character in the opera. You feel a rush of anxiety and thrill every time the tracks start whistling. And the cacophony of each brief passing both overwhelms and underlines the “real” performance.

As it kept whooshing past last weekend, I started to think about who was inside and who was driving. Where was it coming from? Where was it going?

These are also the questions raised by “Sweet Land,” a parable of, and fantasia on, Manifest Destiny and the colonization of America, that “sweet land of liberty.” The work captures — with a poetry that’s stern yet colorful, oblique yet blunt — the uneasiness of our past and future as a nation defined by brutal oppression and pervasive cultural mixing, and by a history that’s been painfully selective about what it remembers.
An Opera About Colonialism Shows How History Warps
Feb. 28, 2020

“Sweet Land” is the latest endeavor of the Industry, the Los Angeles company founded by the director Yuval Sharon and dedicated to an alternative vision of opera. Its productions sprawl well clear of traditional theaters. “Invisible Cities” (2013) was heard over headphones in Union Station, performed by singers indistinguishable from ordinary travelers. “Hopscotch” (2015) put musicians and audience members into 24 cars driving around downtown.

Different people had vastly divergent experiences of these pieces, which asked how much of any performance is defined by the perspective from which it’s consumed. And by the environment in which it takes place: next to that barreling Gold Line train, when it comes to “Sweet Land,” in a park recently built on land that was once acorn fields, a Tongva settlement and a rail yard, near which Chinese men and boys were killed in a 19th-century lynching.

It’s a richly suggestive site for a reflection on the winning of the West, a story that is really many stories, variously exposed and submerged. To tell them, or at least evoke them, “Sweet Land” has enlisted an unusually large group of central collaborators: a pair of directors (Mr. Sharon and Cannupa Hanska Luger); composers (Raven Chacon and Du Yun); and librettists (Aja Couchois Duncan and Douglas Kearney).


Coming from different ethnic, racial and artistic backgrounds, they offer a sort of American utopia: a panoply of traditions that intermingle — to the point that it’s hard to tell one contribution from another — even as each retains equality and integrity.

The audience enters the park and is ushered toward a theater, one of three roughly constructed, temporary open-air structures built for the production. Through a scrim, there’s a dim view of the northern side of the park, still a construction site, and the bridge beyond over the Los Angeles River. Musicians lightly tap on metal. Individual voices — chanting, ululating, cracking, squealing, howling — gradually emerge over speakers, as does a soft, smooth choral harmony underneath.

Here, the opera’s first part, “Contact,” establishes the rough outline of the stylized, mythlike story, told with gnomic economy. A group of Arrivals, singing a blurry version of a religious hymn, comes ashore amid a blast of electronic noise and quivering flute. They are greeted as guests by the native Hosts.

The audience is separated into two tracks — “Train” and “Feast” — each of which has a dedicated in-the-round theater and a separate story. (Over a pair of performances, I was able to experience both.) “Train” is like an abstraction of missionary-driven westward expansion; an ominous drone is punctuated by ripples of percussion as the Hosts teach the Arrivals words and skills. There is building; there is a murder.


“Train” suggests the rape of a land, and “Feast,” the rape of a woman: At a Thanksgiving-like banquet, the music light and flickering, a cowboy-cocky member of the Arrivals, singing Baroque-pastiche countertenor lines, claims one of the Host women as his bride.

Both tracks come together outside in the chilly darkness for “The Crossroads,” before splitting again for “Train 2” and “Feast 2.” Time has moved forward during the interlude. The “Feast” banquet is now a catering hall, complete with chafing dishes, for the wedding of Arrival and Host, and the desperately brassy “Train 2” conjures the chaotic world of contemporary consumerism, mounting to cries of despair from both voices and orchestra. Then the audience reunites back in the “Contact” space for the final part, “Echoes and Expulsions.”

All this, in barely 80 minutes. Despite the ad hoc architecture and the D.I.Y. aesthetic — particularly the costumes, a mixture of neon knits and thrift-store finds — there’s a sense of extravagance in the marshaling of dozens of artists and so many technical challenges for something that passes so quickly.

Quickly, yet in epic style. I’ve rarely taken in a work that’s so grandiosely modest.

The vocal lines tend toward passionate extremity as the instruments seethe underneath. Our guides throughout are two figures, both called Coyote: part-human, part-animal, part-eternal beings who communicate in nearly wordless moans, hums, cackles, clicks and giggles. They take center stage in “The Crossroads” alongside the evil spirit Wiindigo.

As projections play on a mist of water, their voices rise to a guttural roar before Wiindigo chokes out the phrase “Go back to where you came from,” perhaps American racism’s most notorious line — given darkly witty dual meaning here as an instruction for the audience to return to the theaters.


The weakest part of “Sweet Land” is the first: “Contact,” much of which takes place behind that scrim, is musically and dramatically murky. Is some incoherence the point as we begin this disorienting journey? If so, it was unsatisfying; while the piece hardly gets clearer as it progresses, its enigmas grow to feel more intentional and beautiful.

But if the opening is unsteady, the ending is a miniature masterpiece. For “Echoes and Expulsions,” the scrim has been pulled aside, revealing rough country. A child plays (works?) in a ditch (grave?). Voices of the past are heard as if coming out of thin air, chanting in overlapping chorus: stories of a Pomo girl and a Greek immigrant, that 1871 Chinatown lynching and segregated medicine. The words are projected on surfaces all over the wasteland, enlivening even the bridge in the distance.

Finally, a single voice is left, singing “the sweet land” over and over. The sad, curling melody, like a memory of a hymn, bleeds into the child’s quietly forlorn cry, and Coyote, howling at the moon.

There are no curtain calls, as if the work, as it ends, has really vanished. Vanished into an uncertain future: “Sweet Land,” and the spiffy park itself, are symbols of urban renewal and also, inevitably, avatars of gentrification. You can almost hear in the music the rising rents and displacements coming nearby.

The temporary structures in which it’s being performed will be gone in a week or so. Then there will be no trace that an opera was ever put on here. Yet another event on this land, to be remembered and forgotten.

Sweet Land

Through March 15 at Los Angeles State Historic Park; theindustryla.org.



https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/09/arts ... eview.html

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