Last week, we took LA Soho House members to the premiere of ‘Sweet Land,’ an experiential opera performed in Los Angeles State Historic Park, just north of Downtown LA. Described by The New York Times as ‘opera's disrupter in residence,’ Yuval Sharon is the founder of The Industry, the unorthodox opera company behind such critically-acclaimed shows as Hopscotch, Invisible Cities, and now, ‘Sweet Land,’ an opera which re-examines American History through the Native American lens.
We sat down with Sharon to hear more about using performance as a tool for civic engagement and what’s next for opera as an art form.
How did you work to make opera contemporary?
‘There must be something about the way the operas are presented that creates a barrier to us understanding them, and that’s when I started thinking about making my own. Opera doesn’t have to be in some other language about some other time, but it could be in our language and try to address us as Americans. What if opera is not considered an established art form, but rather, an emerging art form, and that people are still discovering what it is? I want to strip away the sense of inaccessibility opera tends to have, without losing the challenge and excitement that surrounds it. It’s not about dumbing it down, but about realising what’s challenging about it is also what’s so inspirational and exciting.’
Would you describe what you’re doing as experiential?
‘I’m looking to change the way opera is experienced – so I started to think about letting it take place in a train station or a moving vehicle or a parking lot. But re-imagining it also includes re-imagining how opera is written, who’s telling the stories and what stories are being told. I want to radicalise every single element of the opera. I also wanted to make sure it wasn’t coming from a privileged perspective, in the way I think opera has been consumed in the past.’
How did you come up with the storyline behind ‘Sweet Land?’
‘The process of creating this was extremely horizontal. There are six members of our creative team – all from different backgrounds – that all came to develop what this is today. Part of our larger mission was to make sure that opera is connected to our civic life in some way. We wanted to address the racial inequality within America, and address how much of our identity tries to erase all of the histories within that inequality.