For five nights in a row, from October 3-7, 2018, the High Line will feature its most ambitious cultural event yet: The Mile-Long Opera. One thousand singers, from 40 amateur choirs from all five boroughs New York City, will perform one piece across the entire one and a half mile stretch of the High Line. The audience will promenade through the piece, starting at the Gansevoort Street entrance to 34th Street. Today, at the offices of Friends of the High Line, the creative forces behind The Mile Long Opera shared their vision for this unique, transformative event.
At its root, The Mile-Long Opera is a community-engagement project that actively sought a piece that represented a diverse, cross-section of the city, both in terms of the participants and the source material. The subject of the opera looks at the time, 7 o’clock, as a time of important transformations across multiple perspectives. First, the transformation from night to day, a time that people change activities. Second, that 7 o’clock means different things to different people. And lastly, the meaning of this time of day has changed dramatically over the past century, from the traditional notion of a nuclear family dinner to the more diverse experiences recognized today.
Elizabeth Diller of Diller, Scofio + Renfro, designers of The High Line and The Shed (upcoming), explained that the idea of the piece really started in 2004, when the High Line first opened. A construction light was inadvertently placed to focus on a tenement building, and a photographer decided to stage a performance with a jazz singer using the fire escape as a stage. The people who were walking on The High Line became the impromptu audience. Diller said it was “one of many unpredictable things that happened on The High Line.” It led them to think “Wouldn’t it be great to stage a very large performance on The High Line, using it in its entirety, once it was finished.” The site itself, she says, “is inherently theatrical.” Both Diller and Robert Hammond, co-founder of the High Line, see the city itself as a character, for the opera, and for the narrative story of The High Line itself.
Photograph by Liz Ligon
Mile-Long Opera is six years in the making. In preparation for the creative process, the Brooklyn community-engagement firm, Peoplmovr, interviewed 150 New Yorkers about what 7 o’clock means to them. Peoplmovr also facilitated the on-going partnership and event series with local anchor partners through the five boroughs: Abron Arts Center on the Lower East Side, ARTs East New York, Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement, THE POINT Community Development Corporation, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. Each location will have community workshops and performances, along with priority access to the ticketed performances of The Mile Long Opera on the High Line.
Pulitzer-prize winning composer David Lang wrote the opera, with poets Anne Carson and Claidio Rankine writing the liberetto. Diller and Lindsey Peisinger serve as co-directors, Donald Nally is the music director. THE OFFICE performing arts + film, The High Line and the Diller, Scofio + Renfro serve as producers.
Ultimately, Diller says Mile-Long Opera is a reflection of the “enormous transformation” New York has undergone in the last fifteen years. It looks at the past and future of The High Line, from a forgotten swatch left fallow after the Meatpacking Industry exited to what it is today. Tacitly acknowledging her firm’s role in the High Line’s evolution, Diller says, “Some of us really remember [the old Meatpacking District] in a very nostalgic way. We’re not making any value judgements. We’re using this as an opportunity to really think hard about the present, and the speedy transformation of the city. Of course, there are winners and losers in all of this, but ultimately this project is a celebration of New York.”
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