Music and Words: Virtually Opera
An improvised and interactive opera sounds fun, but Virtually Opera’s post apocalyptic We Sing/ I Sang, playing as part of the Tête à Tête Opera Festival, is no comedy. Instead, it’s rather pretentious and, at times, unintentionally silly. But, thankfully, it still has its moments of drama.
A live performance of We Sing/I Sang was filmed earlier this week at the Cockpit Theatre in front of a socially distanced audience. This recording takes up much of the Zoom version. Without a preamble, it’s at first very hard to work out what is happening. A person plays a viola, while a singer, the words not always decipherable, accompanies the music. A dancer, their face painted half black, half white, wafts around the stage with a fan. Thank God for the chat feature in Zoom.
Most of the creatives were on the Zoom call , and were able to explain the concept in detail. Members of the live audience are given questions to answer through their mobile phones, and these answers are then relayed to a computer in front of the singer, and also to a bigger screen at the back of the stage. Some of the answers may be short, but the singer CN Lester makes up arias on the spot. The music, too, is improvised, and most of the movement as well.
Knowing the rationale behind the performance, of course, makes the show more interesting but the questions the audience are asked may raise a few eyebrows with their pomposity. Some ask ‘What memory gave you solace during the Crisis?’ while others refer to the Mind. The crisis is presumably the pandemic, but when quizzed on what the Mind actually is, a creative replied, ‘A collective of survivors’.
What does save the performance in CN’s voice which swoops up and down with powerful elegance, and it pays dividends to listen carefully to the words. In response to the audience’s answers CN sings of pet dogs and betrayals, of fat cat capitalists and of breathing in air. When outside, filling their lungs with oxygen, CN sings ‘ I loved the hungry animal of my body’.
Watching a pre-recorded film through Zoom necessarily removes the immediacy of live performance, and so it’s difficult to review this as a live show. As a digital show, it doesn’t quite work. For all the operatics, it comes across as passive on the screen. It would be different ‘in real life’.
At the end of the performance, dancer Leo Doulton invites the online audience to create a fictional community through the help of an Excel spreadsheet. For some of the audience, this interactive online world- building is hysterical, for others it is tiresome. A better use of time might have been a Q&A with the creatives.
Overall, a strange hour is passed in the company of Virtually Opera and while We Sing/I Sang may get caught up in its own grandiosity, the experimental concept is still a curious one, and it shouldn’t stop you seeking out their work.
Runs here until 15 October 2020