Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Creating Opera During a Pandemic

Madison Leonard (Adina), Tess Altiveros (Gianetta), Andrew Stenson (Nemorino) and Maestro Carlo Montanaro during filming of The Elixir of Love. Philip Newton photo 

During the global pandemic, Seattle Opera's work stands out among its peers. SO is one of few American companies continuing to produce opera on the McCaw Hall stage—albeit, in adapted productions, staged specifically for streaming, and with strict COVID-19 safety protocols. In this Q&A, Seattle Opera General Director Christina Scheppelmann shares more about how the company pulled off a brand-new Elixir of Love production, which premieres for subscribers on Friday, Nov. 13. Filmed with three different stationary cameras and one steadicam on the McCaw Hall stage, the production stars Madison Leonard, Michael Adams, Patrick Carfizzi, and Tess Altiveros. Maestro Carlo Montanaro leads the cast and two pianists, plus musicians from Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at seattleopera.org/elixir.

Seattle Opera is one of the first American companies to create a new production in its regular theater and specifically for streaming. Can you explain the significance of this Elixir of Love production? 

Thus far, Seattle Opera's digital Fall Season has included free solo recitals by Frederick Ballentine, Marcy Stonikas, and Jorell Williams. Subscribers have also been able to access streaming recitals featuring highlights from Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci—filmed on the McCaw Hall stage—with a scenic backdrop and theatrical lighting, and with international singers Gregory Kunde and Alexandra LoBianco as well as Seattle Opera favorites Sarah Larsen Nerys Jones. 

This Elixir of Love production takes our Fall Season to the next level with a production designed specifically for streaming. Our Elixir will include costumes, set elements, lighting, a conductor, and all five soloists. To maintain COVID-19 safety, there will not be a chorus or orchestra, which results in some cuts to the score.  However, this is a true "semi-staged" production created with stage director David Gately and film director Kyle Seago rather than a recital or concert. The final product will be edited, then made available to our subscribers.

Patrick Carfizzi sings as Dulcamara while film director Kyle Seago films. Philip Newton photo

To my knowledge, Seattle Opera is one of the few companies in the United States continuing to deliver the titles that were announced for the 2020/21 of the season, albeit, in a different way. We are following strict safety protocols set by the city, county, and state, in collaboration with the crew, musicians' and artists' unions.

The global pandemic has created many painful losses and setbacks for Seattle Opera, and all arts groups. However, we've also had a few successes as well. Can you talk about what Seattle Opera may have gained during this time? 

During the pandemic, Seattle Opera has been able to produce more new recitals that will be accessible to everyone. We have shared great Seattle Opera performances of the past through Classical KING FM 98.1 (and king.org). Pandemic or not, we hope to continue bringing bring opera to people in a variety of ways, and we will keep sharing opera with new audiences. Music and storytelling are for everyone, and while we want people to come to us, we must also meet them where they're at.  

We’ve also been excited to see how our Community Conversations and opera talks are gaining a new level of participation and interest. Digital content in various forms is already a part of opera, and that will continue into the future. We know people will be curious and excited to ultimately see live performances again in our large and striking opera house. But at this moment, we are focused on continuing to create art and music for people to enjoy under present restrictions (in the here-and-now). 

Andrew Stenson (Nemorino) in Seattle Opera's The Elixir of Love. Philip Newton photo

How might Elixir of Love, and other digital offerings, contribute to a changing opera industry? 
Keep in mind, opera companies are unique—they vary by size, venue, and by the community they serve. But one thing these organizations have in common is that we offer the thrill of live performance and events—the desire for which, has been a part of humankind for more than 2,000 years and will never go away. The opera industry cannot offer live performances right now, so it must think outside the box. For some companies, streaming performances might not be a viable option. For Seattle Opera, doing nothing was out of the question. 

We view streaming as a means to continue creating content, employing artists and staff, and making our art form also more accessible. Right now, we have an opportunity to reach people at home, or wherever they may be. We can introduce people to opera for the first time through free, online events and performances.

During the filming of Seattle Opera's Elixir of Love production. Philip Newton photo

As General Director of Seattle Opera, what are you most looking forward to for the rest of 2020 moving into 2021?  
All of it—the fact that we are creating and giving music to our audiences. I’m looking forward to being in rehearsals and in McCaw Hall again while we record singers onstage. Getting to hear the singers live again, getting to see them, talk to them—even from a distance and with a mask on—will be so gratifying. I’m looking forward to seeing us create music and continue engaging with our audiences. I love what I do, and so do the singers and musicians. All we need is you—our audience. Because we do it all for you.

How can people help Seattle Opera and other arts groups?
Keep enjoying music. Keep believing in the power of the voice, and the performing arts as a necessary part of our human experience. Support Seattle Opera by watching our online performances, and, if you enjoy them—please share with your family and friends. If you can make a donation of any amount, it will go a long way to helping us weather this storm because we don’t expect to have new ticket revenue for a long time. If you are a subscriber to Seattle Opera or any performing arts organization, keep your subscription. Let us know how we’re doing. We want to hear from you. Your support energizes us and keeps us innovating and creating for you, even during challenging times. Finally, ask your elected officials for a performing arts reopening plan—where we can provide input and help our sector to have a future and plan for it. 

General Director Christina Scheppelmann photos by Philip Newton and Kristina Murti

Seattle Opera's 
Elixir of Love is available to season ticket holders from November 13–December 4, 2020. Subscriptions to our 2021 Spring Season are on sale and include this program and our full 2020 virtual fall season.

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