Los Angeles Review by Willard Manus

Yuval Sharon recently concluded his three-year residency at Los Angeles Philharmonic with a memorable production of Meredith Monk’s 1991 opera, ATLAS. Sharon re-conceived and directed the avant-garde space opera with Monk’s collaboration.

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ATLAS unfolded on a stage dominated by a 36-foot-high diameter sphere that resembled planet earth but also had sections that opened up and served as stage settings. Various scenes took place here, only to give way to dazzling video projections and dramatic light changes. Meanwhile, down on terra firma, the orchestra and singers worked together to create a river of unearthly sounds: “little collections of vowels and consonants that don’t create a word but that creates a mood,” as one of the opera’s singers, Joanna Lynn-Jacobs, put it.

ATLAS’ story is roughly based on the exploits of the female explorer Alexandra David-Neel, who in 1924 journeyed to Tibet.

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She is represented by a teenaged girl who, in the first of three acts, dreams of following in Neel’s footsteps. Act Two, “Night Travels,” is packed with adventure and danger as Alexandra and her entourage encounter all manner of human, animal and spiritual beings–and demons--on their quest to find fulfillment and enlightenment. Their round-the-world trip takes them to many extreme locales: deserts, forests, Antartica, and of course outer space.

In Act Three, “Invisible Light,” Alexandra, now white-haired and aged, returns home and settles down to live out her last years in wisdom and contentment. She has done what she can to fulfil her dream and honor the beleaguered Mother Earth as well.

With choreography by Danielle Agami, design by Es Devlin, and conducting by Paolo Bortolameoli (leading the L.A. Phil New Music Group), this production of Meredith Monk’s three-hour-long New Age opera was a wondrous, miraculous thing.

(Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave. Call 213-850-2000 or visit