It’s almost overwhelming, the amount of digital operatic content that has flooded the internet in the last twelve months. It’s no doubt alarming, because online opera has, whether we admit it or not, been a placeholder of sorts for the live performances that are still on pause. But if we think back to the charming low-budget-ness of The Metropolitan Opera’s At-Home Gala in April 2020, and compare that to the deluge of specially-curated digital content that’s coming out of opera companies large and small, there’s already been an impressive arc.
With nearly a year’s worth of pandemic-inspired online opera, it’s worth a list of recommendations. These are a few of my personal picks, chosen from among the free, publicly available operatic content coming out of Canada. (And really, if you like the free stuff, consider spending your money on the paid content that’s coming out, too. Your support helps keep artists and organizations afloat during an impossible, scary time for the arts.) In no particular order:
La voix humaine, City Opera Vancouver
Poulenc’s opera, based on the play by Jean Cocteau, has seen a surge in popularity since the pandemic. It’s perfect for socially-distant creation, since it requires just one singer and one pianist; and thematically, you can’t get more perfect than an opera about a woman feeling lonely and struggling with technology.
But in the hands of City Opera Vancouver and Canadian tenor Isaiah Bell, La voix humaine is uncomfortably poignant. The sole character – a woman known only as “Elle” – is adapted to a mid-pandemic reality; instead of Elle, we get a man speaking to his lover from the silence of an empty theatre, where he’s sticking around post-rehearsal for something socially-distanced. The language is translated and updated to freakishly realistic standards, and before you know it, all your perceptions about love, masculinity, and co-dependency are flipped upside down. It’s available in seven webisodes, or packed into the complete version below:
Dadima, Pacific Opera Victoria
I didn’t know what to expect when I clicked play on Dadima, Simran Claire‘s contribution to Pacific Opera Victoria’s Civic Engagement Quartet Recital. But it’s utterly moving, disorientating in a beautiful way, like uncovering a cultural bias you didn’t know you had. Claire tells a story of marriage, specifically arranged marriage, and most specifically her grandmother’s arranged marriage in Punjab, 1960. The story is paired with Robert Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben, and it’s a beautiful way to say that different cultures have common ground in life’s significant moments:
S.O.S. Sketch Opera Singers, Tapestry Opera
Operatic levity! It’s hard to come by in normal times, let alone a pandemic that decimates the performing arts! Hah! But really, Tapestry Opera has managed some poking of fun at opera with their fantastic series, S.O.S. Sketch Opera Singers. It’s exactly what it sounds like: in sketch-comedy format, some of Canada’s top operatic talent use their voices to make you laugh out loud. Check out episode one below, and find more over at Tapestry’s YouTube channel.
The Apocrypha Chronicles, re:Naissance Opera
It’s perhaps opera-adjacent, but definitely worth a listen. re:Naissance Opera, the folks with a reputation for fusing opera with technology and futurism, have released a new sci-fi podcast, The Apocrypha Chronicles. It’s an audio drama set in the year 2156, when a relic hunter has found a time capsule from the year 2020. A past-present conversation emerges, and it starts with an experience that no doubt still feels acute: the last time we went to a big gathering. Take a breath and listen:
Readers, what are you watching for your operatic fix? Let us know in the comments, or reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.