Opera by Telephone and Other Ways to Enjoy the High Notes

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NEW YORK – All the major opera houses like The Met have been dark since the pandemic began and opera companies have been scrambling to put programming online. But some in the opera world have been creating works away from the big stages for years – and now they are finding new audiences in the pandemic.

The glowsticks and the beat in the video for the work “Everything for Dawn” might suggest electronic dance music, but it’s is a production by Experiments In Opera, which has been blowing up the traditional opera format for more than a decade.

“Trying to sort of rewrite what the story of opera is by pushing the boundaries,” said Kamala Sankaram, a Co-Artistic Director for Experiments in Opera.

In EIO’s hilarious opera, “I screwed up the future,” a woman travels back in time to try to save the world from the predicted Y2K disaster. Since the pandemic, the writers of Experiments in Opera have been working virtually. Their new production – an opera in the form of a podcast.

“It’s never intended to be performed live and it will be released in a serialized order. So you won’t get the full story in unless you tune in more than once,” said Sankaram.

Director James Darragh has been making operatic films and music videos since before the Pandemic.

“I can’t think of another art form that’s as rooted in tradition as opera and some of that is great, some of those I’m like ‘let’s throw that away,'” said Darragh. “Before the the shutdowns I spent a lot of time taking to companies about ‘If opera is the place all the arts have converged, it’s kind of ignored cinema for a long time.”

“But for the most time when cinema film people come into opera they would play by opera rules instead of the other way around,” he added.

Darragh likes to challenge the idea of what opera can and should be. Like his recent work in response to social distancing — a love story played out over a phone call.

New York’s On-Site Opera also created a phone opera. Theirs plays out over the telephone with no visual component.

“The inspiration for the phone opera was to try to find an opportunity to allow audiences to become untethered from their screen,” said On Site’s Artistic Director Eric Einhorn.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, these innovators are turning out new work which can be found on new streaming platforms online, on the phone and maybe someday on MTV.


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