Three years ago, Meyer Sound was asked to partner with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (LA Phil) in support of Director Yuval Sharon’s three-year term as Artist in Residence. It’s been an extraordinary journey — from War of the Worlds, a world premiere opera presented live in four separate downtown LA locations, to John Cage’s rarely performed Europeras set on a Sony Studios soundstage’ and finally, to Atlas, the iconic Meredith Monk opera presented for the first time since its debut nearly three decades ago.
Marking the first time that Monk has allowed any artist to reimagine her work for the stage, Sharon collaborated with stage design artist Es Devlin to create a staging concept centered around a 22-ton central sphere with three-dimensional video projections. The stage design required a new position for the musicians of LA Phil, moving them from the traditional stage to an improvised pit in the first four rows of seating. To meet the new challenges, sound designer Mark Grey utilized the existing Disney Hall LEOPARD system, augmented with 14 additional LEOPARD loudspeakers, flown in right, center and left clusters; eight 900-LFC subwoofers; and eight UPJunior loudspeakers on pipe and base acting positioned to serve as both front fills and as a perimeter between musicians and audience.
A pioneer of ‘extended vocal technique,’ Monk incorporated very few spoken words in Atlas — choosing instead to use the human voice as a musical instrument, creating landscapes of sound and emotion. Atlas marked a departure for Grey in terms of sound design for opera; usually Grey is looking to enhance intelligibility while creating the illusion of no amplification. For Atlas, both director and composer embraced sound design as a way to create a true ensemble sound and reinforce the warmth and roundness of the human voice. Wireless mics on each of the 19 cast members enabled complete freedom of movement. Es Devlin’s stunning globe, the centerpiece of this new production, required both Grey and Devlin to collaborate on the sound design. The center clusters are flown a bit higher to leave a clear view of the top of the globe and, because there is no audience seated behind the stage, Disney Hall’s rear facing LEOPARD loudspeakers are utilized for fold-back sound to the singers when they are performing from positions inside the Globe itself.
Yuval Sharon was a child in Chicago in 1991 when Atlas first premiered in Houston, Texas. He had a musical epiphany upon discovering the work in college at UC Berkeley. When the opportunity to serve as Artist in Residence with the LA Phil came about, Sharon knew immediately that he wanted Atlas to be his finale. Sharon commented on the work in a recent interview with the LA Weekly, “It’s so deep and it’s so real and meaningful, and it also loves to laugh. Somehow it is about the most important existential ideas that we confront in our lives, and it doesn’t forget the importance of laughter, the importance of joy. There’s so much joy in this piece.”