Since March 2020, opera’s relationship with film has grown leaps and bounds. Opera on screen may not be the average fan’s preferred way to consume the artform, but without the opera-friendly work done by artists like photographer and videographer Taylor Long, the silence would certainly be deafening. We’re continuing our Q&A series with the man behind the Canadian Opera Company’s Virtual Choir, Tapestry Opera’s S.O.S. Sketch Opera Singers, and Opera Canada’s very own 2020 Rubies:
How did your 2020 compare to a “normal” year in your line of work?
“As a relatively new videographer, I don’t have many ‘normal’ years to compare this with, but 2020 definitely kept me busy!
“Before COVID-19 shut down theatres, a lot of my video work involved capturing live events –– most of that was filming and editing concerts and recitals. I love doing that kind of work, but there’s not usually a lot of room for imagination.
“One pandemic silver lining is that it required opera companies to think creatively about how they present their work digitally and how digital media can have a place in their programming. It opened the door to a lot of exciting projects.”
What are some opera-related projects that came your way as a direct result of the pandemic closures?
“Early on in the pandemic, the Canadian Opera Company realized they’d have to cancel their popular in-person chorus sing-a-long, so they decided to make it a digital project. The COC Virtual Choir ended up being a massive editing project for me involving 215 filmed-from-home performances of Verdi’s ‘Anvil Chorus’ from Il Trovatore. I’m thrilled with how it turned out, especially that there were recordings sent in from all around the world – but I definitely need a long break before I can listen to the ‘Anvil Chorus’ again!
“Opera Canada also decided to go virtual for the first time ever with their annual Rubies Awards gala. The ceremony usually takes place in Toronto, but this digital presentation allowed audiences from across Canada to tune in, which was truly exciting.
“I also had the opportunity to work on some really cool, innovative projects with Tapestry Opera, including a production of Ana Sokolovic’s Love Songs (which we shot like a film), a music video with pianist and singer Morgan-Paige Melbourne and the second episode of their opera sketch comedy show, S.O.S. Sketch Opera Singers.”
How have you observed individual singers’ professional decisions during these last 14 months? How has their relationships with technology and video production changed?
“There was certainly some initial resistance from singers when digital content became their only option and I think it’s natural that there would be resistance. The relationships between singers and the audience, singers and other musicians they collaborate with on stage –– that reciprocal energy fuels the art-making that takes place.
“I think it’s still possible to capture some of that magic when you’re producing opera for film. The artists I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past 14 months see the value of digital media and understand that if it’s well-produced, it can create a unique operatic experience and also be a great tool for increasing accessibility to the art form.”
What do you consider to be the difference between a mediocre and an excellent fusion of classical music/opera and screen media?
“At the beginning of the pandemic, the ‘singing from your living room’ videos were heartwarming, but I think the novelty wore off fairly quickly on that format. Audiences now expect a bit more polish from digital performances.
“I consider a mediocre fusion of classical music and screen media to be an exact recreation of what you would experience in person –– it’s filmed from where the audience would normally sit and that’s about it.
“If there’s no expectation of an audience being there, I say don’t feel restricted to producing that kind of video. Show your audience what they need to see, yes, but try to also show them something they’d never be able to see in person. Bring them in closer. Show them how the sounds are being made on various instruments. Give them a perspective they’d never be able to experience from their seat.”
If/when live opera becomes normal again, what do you hope opera producers will have taken away from this sudden shift to digital production?
“When live opera returns, I hope opera producers will realize that digital media has a place alongside their in-person programming. Digital media can help you reach new audiences that might be too intimidated to engage with opera in person. It can be an affordable way to produce new works and engage new voices. It can help you expand your reach and build your audiences beyond your local communities.
“I know audiences are craving live performances and many are feeling oversaturated with the amount of digital content that’s out there. My hope is that they can recognize how important digital media is for the sustainability of our industry. Until we’re back to full capacity live performances, digital allows us to continue to engage our artists and compensate them. Even when we’re back to live performances, digital media will help us find new ways to engage our artists and tell new stories.
“Something I hear all the time in the opera world is, ‘Nothing can replace the live experience.’ I think that’s true. Digital media should never replace the live-ness of opera, but it can and should complement it. We don’t have to pick one –– live or digital. The two forms can work together in harmony and support each other.”
Readers, what opera on the screen have you enjoyed most, so far? What operas are you eager to see adapted for film? Let us know in the comments, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more of Taylor Long’s work, visit his website.