The Mile Long Opera

[Ed. Note: TV and City is on a bit of a hiatus, so, unfortunately, this awesome event is already over. We’ve decided to post this article anyway.]

By Rachel M.

For six consecutive nights, October 3–8, 2018, 1,000 singers from across New York City are coming together on the High Line for the premiere performances of The Mile-Long Opera: a biography of 7 o’clock. As audience members, of whom I was one tonight, walk along the park, they can move in and out of groups of singers, immersing themselves in hundreds of stories about life in our rapidly changing city. This ambitious, collective, free choral work was inspiring and an “only in New York” moment. The sheer diversity in age and ethnic backgrounds of the singers, as well as the audience, was a unifying experience.

Attendees walk from the 14th entrance all the way up to 34th street with performers lining the way. All the singers are illuminated in varied ways so that they can be seen in the dark. Many made eye contact with the audience and it often felt as if they were singing or telling their story to you personally. “1,000 singers each have their own solo stories to sing, and you walk by them. You might hear them all together, in a haze, as you walk by. Or you might lean in and hear each story” says Co-creator David Lang.

At the heart of the opera is an extensive community engagement initiative that utilized 39 non-profit cultural organizations across all five boroughs. The work focuses on the changing meaning of 7:00 pm, the time the performance begins each evening, and a time that represents a transition from day to night, when people shift from one activity to the next. It is also a time traditionally associated with family, stability, and home. Yet today, those associations are less predictable. The diverse stories told in The Mile-Long Opera are inspired by first-hand interviews with New Yorkers from all walks of life. Their individual experiences reflect unique ways of coping with the contemporary condition—anxiety, humor, nostalgia, vulnerability, joy, and outrage— that together form a biography of 7 o’clock.

Acclaimed poets Anne Carson and Claudia Rankine wrote the text, inspired by real-life stories. These conversations reveal a vast spectrum of feelings and perspectives about life in our rapidly changing city and the misaligned rhythms of its inhabitants. The repetition of certain lines over and over as you walk past each performer, whether in song or in recitation, allows the words to enter your memory. The lyrics resonated deeply with this native New Yorker.

As Robert Hammond, Founder and Executive Director of the High Line says, “The Mile-Long Opera reimagines the scale of what can happen in public space, and how we can experience it together.” Co-creator Elizabeth Diller adds, “The park is a 30-block-long urban stage for an immersive performance in which the audience is mobile, the performers are distributed, and the city acts as both protagonist and backdrop for a collective experience celebrating our diversity.”