Tuesday 27 October 2020

A digital opera for our modern age: VOPERA debuts its film of Ravel's opera

VOPERA - Ravel - L'enfant et les sortileges

Putting opera onto film too often simply consists of pointing cameras at a staged performance and letting things run. Sometimes directors get a little creative, but too often if the filmed opera does move away from staging then we lose sight of the singers too and the music becomes a mere back-drop. 

But in an era where live performance of opera is either impossible or extremely difficult, a new company VOPERA is re-thinking the way opera is filmed. Founded by director Rachael Hewer (who was associate director for Opera Holland Park's 2019 Young Artist performance of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, see my review), VOPERA was created specifically so that musicians, artists, creatives and technicians could be employed during the pandemic, using global Zoom auditions and rehearsals, socially distanced orchestral studio recording, individually captured audio recordings, hand-drawn set and costumes, and body-double acting using a home-made green-screen studio overlaid with the recorded casts' singing faces. 

Hewett explained:

“I wanted to make something that people can be actively and creatively involved in. We are all worried about the pressures - both health-related and financial - that the pandemic has put us under, but fundamentally the emotional impact of not working and not making music is being underestimated. I can do something about that. This project involves dozens of artists working individually and together. Singers need to sing, players need to play, and I can make that possible.”

The result is a film of Ravel's opera L'enfant et les sortileges directed by Rachael Hewer, directed by Leanne Vandenbussche and conducted by Lee Reynolds, with a cast Emily Edmonds as the child, Karen Cargill as Maman and a cast including Marcus Farnsworth, Alison Rose, Kieran Rayner, Thomas Atkins, Jane Monari, Sarah Hayashi, Chloe Morgan, Elizabeth Lynch, Claire Lees, Paul Hopwood, Shuna Scott Sendall, Jerome Knox, Michael Sumuel, Idunnu Munch, Eleanor Penfold, Elizabeth Karani, Gavan Ring, Marta Fontanals-Simmons, and Philippa Boyle. The work was recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in Lee Reynolds specially produced orchestration, reducing the orchestra to 27 musicians.

Conductor Lee Reynolds commented on the complexities of the whole process:

"We've all faced a huge challenge in discovering how musicians, spread thousands of miles apart, can make meaningful music together, and this brilliantly ambitious project has demanded solutions that none of us could have dreamed of only months ago. From the smallest steps like refining how to share musical ideas, rehearse and do amazing things over an internet connection from half a planet away, right up to our 360º orchestral recording layout, this project has proven that with enough determination and pioneering creativity, opera can happen, even in these extraordinary times"

The film is released on 16 November 2020 when it will debut on the London Philharmonic Orchestra's YouTube channel, full details from the VOPERA website. There is also a Just Giving campaign in support of the opera.

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