November 17, 2015
Hopscotch—a mobile opera—channels the influence of Julio Cortázar
by Chad Felix
The Industry, a Los Angeles-based experimental opera company led by Yuval Sharon, will close its latest project, Hopscotch, on November 22nd. Hopscotch follows on the heels of Sharon’s similarly ambitious and similarly literary Invisible Cities, which Sharon pegged as an “opera for headphones.”
Named for Julio Cortázar’s experimental 1963 novel, the Industry originally intended to use the Argentinean author’s narrative as the opera’s plot, however, the author’s estate refused to grant the company usage rights. Nonplussed, the Industry moved forward, enlisting a team of six writers to create a reconstructed narrative, a version of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The opera also involves six composers, and over one-hundred musicians, dancers, and actors, and Wilshire Limousine Services.
Cortázar’s novel is structured around 155 episodes—99 of which, according to the author, are expendable. The author’s note that opens the novel states that the it can be read one of three ways: in “linear order” (chapters 1-56); by “hopscotching” through the work utilizing its Table of Instructions; or whichever order the reader chooses. The opera functions similarly to Cortázar’s novel by seating audience members in limousines, setting them upon the city of Los Angeles and subjecting them to a series of “live chapters”—according to The New Yorker‘s Alex Ross, Hopscotch is “a combination of road trip, architecture tour, contemporary-music festival, and waking dream.”
A ticket to Hopscotch is a ticket to a ninety-minute experience: participants choose between red, yellow, or green routes, and four attendees are taken per limo. Each route consists of eight chapters—a chapter of the opera can take place either within the moving vehicle itself—Lucha, the opera’s protagonist, might take up the flute, or she may sing to the accompaniment of a few guitarists who happen to be sitting right next to you—or the scene could take place outside, where a singer might lament a lost love amidst the crowds of Chinatown’s Central Plaza, or as in the video below, a trumpeter could plays disconsolate solo atop the ETO Doors tower.
As Sharon told The New Yorker, “An opera with a nonsequential plot that depends on cars arriving on time in L.A.? We’ve created a monster, but it’s alive.”
According to the group’s website, the Industry commissioned 10 animated chapters available online and intended to “act as narrative tent-poles for the story.” Additionally, anyone can watch live streams of the entire production—captured by hand-held cameras provided to attendees free of charge—at the Central Hub, located in the parking lot of the Southern California Institute of Architecture.
Central to both the opera and novel is the idea that one does not need to witness every scene or read every single chapter in order to experience the totality of the piece. The spirit of the experience is focal here, not the specifics of plot—the result is the feeling that the world of the narrative is always bigger than the scene. The city of Los Angeles itself is a character in Hopscotch—the city’s scenes, as in life, unravel daily, with or without us.
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.