I assumed that the logistics and scale of staging an opera were too vast to make a digital performance possible.
When I was first assigned to UCSC’s Opera Workshop as a Teaching Assistant in the fall of 2020, I was intrigued. I knew that some of the university’s smaller ensembles had taken on collaborative projects resulting in virtual performances, but I assumed that the logistics and scale of staging an opera were too vast to make a digital performance possible. In short order the faculty, production staff, and students at UCSC transformed my doubts into excitement with a plan to meet the challenges of artistic performance in COVID times with a visionary and highly ambitious project. In short, the plan was for individual students to record both audio and video which would be edited into a cohesive performance taking place on a virtual stage.
Throughout the 2020 fall quarter, Sheila Willey and the cast worked tirelessly on vocal parts, blocking, and character development for a medium they had never used, learning as they went. Bruce Kiesling created click tracks for the vocalists to record to and worked with the UCSC orchestra to record their individual parts. David Murakami held workshops for students on how to record their own videos in the best possible quality including tips on lighting, greenscreens, camera angles, and more. Ge Jia, Alina Bokovikova, and Bethany Deal created costumes for the cast to film with; Jessica Carter shared expertise with hair and makeup so that students could do their own; and Lydia Werthen helped improve their Italian diction. The pace was furious, but the staff, orchestra, and cast were steadfast, and the majority of audio and video for The Elixir of Love was completed over the course of 10 weeks in the fall.
Bruce took on the Herculean task of editing all of the cast and orchestra members’ audio into something that sounds like people performing in a room together. David took on the equally formidable assignment of transforming the individual cast members’ videos into a beautiful unified production in a new visual medium of performance.
The cast worked hard not only on singing their parts and executing their blocking, but on learning how to do their own hair and makeup, how to light themselves for the camera, and how to record themselves. They had to conjure all of the energy and inspiration that typically comes from performing in front of a live audience while recording themselves alone. They had to channel the confidence that comes from singing with an ensemble of friends and peers into solo performances with a click track. They’ve succeeded brilliantly, and I’m extremely excited to share the fruit of our collective labor and love for this project.
- Nelsen Hutchison, Teaching Assistant