If anyone were making any money on classical albums these days, news of a Hopscotch release might be initially misinterpreted as a cynical cash grab. How can a site-specific opera – one in which miniature audiences were shuttled around Los Angeles in limos, side-by side with performers – hinged on a singular and deeply personal live experience translate to the static medium of a recording?
Pluck the key-shaped USB drive out of the digipak, set the car stereo to “shuffle,” and shift into drive for the answer.
After seven or so full traversals of the track list (only once chronologically, and twice in an airplane), it is this writer’s contention at least that Hopscotch is best experienced in a moving motor vehicle. Loosely, the opera is a gender-swapped Orpheus and Eurydice riff portrayed by over 100 artists illuminating scores from six composers: Veronika Krausas, Marc Lowenstein Andrew McIntosh, Andrew Norman, Ellen Reid, and David Rosenboom. Like the Julio Cortázar novel from which it finds its title, Hopscotch is a non-linear story, weaving themes of kismet, multiple realities, loss and of course, love. This is opera, after all.
With six librettists and six composers backseat-driving director and mastermind Yuval Sharon’s conceit, the most striking aspect here is that for all its stylistic heterogeneity, Hopscotch possesses an indomitable gravitational pull. Even listening in what we might typically think of as “out of order,” the same gasp of decompression arrives at conclusion of each 2-1/4 hour experience. This isn’t to say that auditory participation is exclusively transportive. Speeding up Lake Shore Drive (Chicago) one day with Lowenstein’s track “Chapter 35” playing, I glanced west to see a huddle of pockmarked tarps sagging over blanched sleeping bags in the park as young Lucha and old Lucha intoned, “A thousand streets / lead into one great path.” It’s not that Mandy Kahn’s text brought literal commentary to the tableau. Instead, as the project intended, real life was enchantingly inserted into the story for a moment.
Occasions of great beauty and fascination abound – not the least of which are gnarwhallaby's crowd-din-like, scene-setting improvisations – including “Lucha’s Quinceañera Song” in which straight-tone and pitch-wobble play believably like the earnest delivery of a teenage singer. The true delight of Hopscotch the album, though, is not in any one piece but in the transfiguration of each tune based on the given landscape and characters on the other side of the windshield.
- Doyle Armbrust