Opera in a time of pandemic

  • Posted on: 23 November 2020
  • By: Michael Withers

We’ve been struggling for most of 2020 to find ways of performing opera. Freelance singers and musicians have been badly hit by the pandemic and the lack of performances of any kind for most of the year, and it doesn’t look as though it’s going to get any better until well into next year. The issue, of course, is that opera is a dramatic medium; socially distanced opera performances can’t replicate the tension or passion of physical closeness. Glyndebourne managed a live socially distanced performance of Offenbach’s ‘Mesdames de la Halle’ and the energy of the performance almost made us forget though the cleverness of the production reminded us throughout that the characters were not to get too close.

Two other companies have resorted to digital media to attempt to present Covid-secure opera.

A virtual Hansel and Gretel

Iford Arts, a Wiltshire-based company known for its educational outreach activities, launched ‘Gingerbread!’ in August. This production cleverly uses Zoom-style home recordings against special backdrops to tell the Hansel and Gretel story in a digital medium.

You can find this performance on YouTube Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOgmTXA6hQs where you will also find links to the subsequent episodes.

The Virtual Opera Project

Taking the idea one step further, one hugely enterprising solution has been the ‘Virtual Opera Project’. This performance of Ravel’s opera ‘L’enfant et les sortileges’ was undertaken in collaboration with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Concordia Foundationand is a full-scale digital creation directed by Rachel Hewer. All the singers were recorded at home, the orchestra was recorded socially distanced, actors worked in green-screen studio to provide the ‘bodies’ for the singers. The effect, brilliantly stylised, is remarkable.

Of even more interest to Heber members and supporters is the fact that the conductor was Lee Reynolds, who many will remember from Lewes Operatic, and who played in our orchestra for a number of shows. He also prepared the reduced arrangement of Ravel’s score. Well done, Lee, brilliant achievement! (And if you read the cast list, you’ll find that Grace Lovelass sang in the chorus.)

The production is available on YouTube, but only for 30 days from 16 November: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTkwaB8l4SA

If you are impressed with this digital creation, please consider making a donation.