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A performance of 'War of the Worlds' is taking over Downtown L.A.'s old air raid sirens

Written by
Danielle Torres

Expect the unexpected whenever Yuval Sharon is at the helm of an opera. The Industry founder’s groundbreaking, unorthodox productions—including Invisible Cities (2013) at Union Station, which audiences experienced through wireless headphones, and Hopscotch (2015), an oeuvre that took place in moving cars—are a testament to his ability to look beyond the traditional. The same mentality is behind his new boundary-breaking performance piece, War of the Worlds, at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

As part of his three-year stint as artist-collaborator with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Sharon has joined creative forces with composer Annie Gosfield to resurrect and reimagine the infamous 1938 broadcast by then-23-year-old radio host Orson Welles. It was through this nationally aired “fake news” piece—an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s 19th-century novel, The War of the Worlds—that millions of listeners became convinced that aliens were invading planet Earth. The nationwide havoc and hysteria that ensued marked that late-October evening as one of the most memorable moments in U.S. radio history.

In the forthcoming opera, conducted by Christopher Rountree, Sharon looks to Welles’s original radio script to create an immersive, realistic production that will be performed beyond the confines of the concert hall.

While LA Phil musicians conjure Gosfield’s radio sounds inside the iconic venue, singers will be stationed at three defunct WWII-era sirens in Downtown L.A. (Olive and 1st Sts; Winston and Main Sts; and Hill and 7th Sts). The performance will stream live through the sirens, which have been repurposed as two-way speakers just for the event, while the singers outside will send back dispatches of the alien invasion to be broadcast live to audiences inside the concert hall.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia/Jengod

The one-of-a-kind performance piece will be staged three times: first on November 12, and again on the following Saturday during the LA Phil’s Noon to Midnight, a daylong series of pop-up performances from various ensembles with food trucks and beer gardens.

War of the Worlds is at Walt Disney Concert Hall Nov 12 at 2pm and Nov 18 at noon and 2pm (323-850-2000, $10–$58.

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