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Opera in the Times of COVID-19

Opera in the Times of COVID-19

What is opera in the times of COVID-19? Check in every Wednesday for an inspiring story on how opera companies are innovating to deliver ARTISTIC and CIVIC IMPACT during these times of isolation. Coming up: Tapestry Opera.

 

Tapestry Opera - Increasing Access
 
One of the first Canadian companies to bring the operatic experience online and into our living rooms was Tapestry Opera with Songbook X. The event was supposed to be an emerging artist showcase celebrating the work of 20 young singers and clinicians over the course of a three-day masterclass intensive. Executive Director, Jaime Martino said that despite installing multiple hand sanitizer stations, and introducing a new “jazz hands handshake policy,” they had their concerns about running Songbook X long before Ontario stay-at-home orders were in place. After watching the situation unfold elsewhere, it became clear to Martino and General and Artistic Director Michael Mori that it would not be safe to bring so many young artists together in the same room.
 
With the workshop cancelled, the decision was made to broadcast a live concert instead. Krisztina Szabó and pianist Dr. Chris Foley, who were originally set to lead the workshop, put together a full recital in less than a week. There were just 6 days between deciding to do the online concert, and the performance, “and in that time the whole world changed,” said Martino.
 
But so much of the operatic experience extends beyond the performances on stage - it’s the bustling excitement in the lobby before curtain, and the conversations with fellow opera lovers that make audience members feel a part of a greater community.
 
For Songbook X, providing digital program notes initially seemed like an extra layer of content they could provide to their viewers. What it actually turned into was a vehicle for community discussion. "People in the chat became the communal experience - it was quite unexpected and very beautiful,” said Martino. “It gave us a sense of what would be necessary to keep that feeling going.”
 
 
 
 
But the online concerts aren’t the only way Tapestry has been adapting the operatic experience for these new times. Rocking Horse Winner was also set to open this past month, and although all live performances are currently cancelled, Tapestry will honor all artist contracts. They are also bringing the full cast, ensemble, and creative team together virtually to continue the rehearsal process. “Because we’re just learning how to do this, we’ve been changing the process as we go,” said Martino. "What’s been astonishing is the incredible generosity of the artists. The performers are all in - they’re doing whatever it takes.”
 
One thing is for certain, while going digital hasn’t historically been a part of this art form, it will be interesting to see what types of performances come to the forefront. As many companies wait for directives from health officials to gain a better sense of what next season will look like, companies and opera lovers alike have some time to think about what the future of opera could look like. “‘What if’ conversations are daunting but also really exciting,” adds Martino, “having some space to think differently and ask ourselves, ‘what is the thing that is most important, and can we hold onto that if nothing else?”
 
Story by Sarah Forestieri