There have been a lot of discussions lately about diversity in opera and how, particularly, race and gender are represented in very limited and problematic ways, especially in the canonical operas of the long 19th century. The latest to come my way is a very good panel discussion hosted by the COC (on their Youtube channel) and moderated by Aria Umezawa. This one tackled gender issues but, inevitably broader questions came up and that’s what I want to explore here. You might want to watch it either before or after reading the rest of this piece.
The only revolution to ever start in an opera house….
There’s an interesting new project on Youtube from Natalya Gennadi and Catherine Carew. It’s called HBD! Project and the idea is to produce a short themed video each month featuring composers whose birthdays fall in that month. The February pilot is online and it’s a bit different from other “shows” in similar vein that I’ve come across. This one features a song by Alban Berg sung by Natalya with a fluffy puppy, music for cello and piano by Jean Coulthard played by Alice Kim and Hye Won Cecilia Lee and Rodney Sharman’s Tobacco Road sung by Catherine. So what’s new you ask (apart from the puppy)? It’s the graphics with Mozart in a party hat, animated Emily Carr paintings and a look for the Sharman that could double as the witches’ scene in Macbeth. Yes it’s a bit weird but oddly compelling.
Yesterday the COC hosted an update session on the Digital Stage initiative and one of its key components; the Performing Arts Digital Lab (PADL). This is a joint project of the COC and the National Ballet) and yesterday’s update curiously coincided with the Federal Heritage department announcing major funding for the next stage of PADL. I’m not going to report on the update in detail because all the materials and the session itself will be archived at coc.ca/digitalstage. (All the stuff prior to yesterday is already there but yesterday’s material wasn’t at time of writing)
I last saw a live show in a theatre on March 13th. Eight months later I’ve watched a lot of web content as well as continuing to review commercial opera recordings. A month ago I wrote in Opera Canada that “there’s no substitute for live” and I stand by that view. I do think though that there’s an opportunity and a need to rethink how opera and song is produced for webstreaming.
I’m quite disturbed by some of the things I’ve been reading in the wake of Alexander Neef’s departure from the COC.Much of it seems driven by a kind of cultural chauvinism that I find as unpalatable as other kinds of chauvinism.There’s an underlying (or not so underlying) assumption that a Canadian GD would have looked out for the COC while Neef was just looking out for himself.I have two problems with this. One is the rather obvious point that if you hire someone who is on a career trajectory they are going to devote some time and energy to their career. It doesn’t mean they won’t get the job done for you (and likely better than a mediocrity) because if they don’t that career trajectory will disappear rather rapidly. ny organization hiring a high flyer knows this..
It seems like as soon as the lockdown started there was a great rush to get content up online. Companies big and small were at it and so were individual artists and groups of friends. Some of the content was performance, some was interviews and some was just plain quirky. Since then we’ve seen specially staged concerts and attempts to monetize the streams among other things. It’s four months on and what have we learnt?
I was at the second Digital Symposium hosted by the COC and the National Ballet this morning. I was at the first round back in September which was basically an environmental scan that didn’t really evoke much of a reaction beyond noting that there were a lot of shiny technologies and they were expensive so I didn’t write about it. Today was different. In both the plenary session, in which KerrSmith presented their “Horizon Scan”, and the break out groups I was involved in some really deep conversations. I want to try and share some of that with you along with some thoughts of my own. I should stress that anything I’m writing here is personal and provisional and certainly doesn’t represent the views of the COC, the National Ballet or KerrSmith.
The COC unveils its 2020/2021 season next Monday so, as in previous years I took a go at predicting what it might look like. This year operaramblings has abandoned traditional predictive methods such as animal sacrifice and hallucinogenic drugs in favour of handing all the data over to Cambridge Analytica. That didn’t work too well as they predicted a new opera based on Brexit and Putin being elected President of the USA. So it was back to the methodology we data scientists call “small data” where basically we make stuff up based on far too few data points. Here’s what emerged.
My recently acquired media player plays SACD disks. I recently acquired a review copy of one such. It’s the Chandos recording of Berlioz’ L’enface du Christ recorded by Andrew Davis and the Melbourne Symphony. It comes with three “tracks”; standard (more or less) CD which will play on a CD player and both stereo and surround tracks in SACD format. Now “standard CD” for Chandos is a bit higher definition than most CDs. 24 bit at 48kHz versus 16 bit at 44.1 kHz. Is there a detectable difference?
I just read Leslie Barcza’s very thoughtful review of the current COC Elektra. It’s an interesting take and, in it’s way, entirely reasonable and please do go and read the whole thing. There was though one theme where I just couldn’t agree and it took me some thinking to figure out why. Paraphrasing a bit brutally, Leslie yearns for an Aegisth and a Klytemnestra he can hate and, as part of that, an Elektra who is more obviously degraded. This had me thinking about my recent experience with a retelling of the last stage of the whole saga; Saga Collectìf’s Iphigenia and the Furies (on Taurian Land)and how that had impacted how I reacted to Elektra.