At 7 p.m. every night from October 3 to 7, a mega-chorus of 1,000 singers from 40 individual choirs around New York City will take to the High Line to perform “The Mile-Long Opera: A Biography of 7 O’clock.” Composed by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang, the “opera” is an immersive performance that invites audience members to walk (at their leisure) the length of the High Line, starting at Gansevoort Street and stretching the one and half miles up to West 34th Street, while performers sing micro-stories inspired by life in the city.
The project, conceived six years ago by architect Elizabeth Diller (Diller Scofidio + Renfro), takes off from a simple question: What does 7 p.m. mean to New Yorkers? From there, the creative studio Peoplmovr sought to capture diverse stories from individuals across all five boroughs. Bits of these stories were then incorporated into the final libretto, written by poets Anne Carson and Claudia Rankine and transformed into a mosaic score by Lang.
“Opera is about using music to add emotion to character,” said Lang at a press preview on Wednesday morning. He went on to explain that participants will experience this music in two ways throughout the performance: first as a generalized “buzz,” created by the cumulative voices of the choir, then as individual stories sang by the performers. The goal of this intimate experience is to eliminate the distance that some audience members might inherently feel toward opera or classical music. “I tried really hard not to make a scary piece,” said Lang, adding that he sees the project as a “wide invitation” to the public.
While the community engagement aspect of the project looms large, the changing landscape around the High Line also informs the piece. “We’re actually using this as an opportunity to think hard about the present. And about the speedy transformation of the city,” said Diller about the conceptual framework behind the piece. “Of course, there are winners and losers in all of this, but ultimately this project is a celebration of New York. And we wanted to make a piece that was of New York, in New York, with real talent.”
Joining Lang and Diller, “The Mile-Long Opera” is co-directed by Lynsey Peisinger and led by Donald Nally. While the performances are free and open to the public, audience members must RSVP for tickets ahead of time.
Top Image: Courtesy of Diego Cortés