Performing opera from the bedroom
A grand stage, elaborate costumes and songs about lives in a different historical era – these are things that one might commonly associate with opera. Homegrown chamber opera company L’arietta Productions, however, has stripped away these trappings in its new online opera show, All Dressed Up (No Place to Go).
The show, an original operatic work by American composer Michael Ching, shows how eight characters, including a man going through a divorce and a baker, cope with changes in their lives during the pandemic. The cast members sing about the characters’ dreams and anxieties from their own homes – bedrooms to bathrooms, no holds barred – and in everyday clothes such as sweatpants and nightgowns.
The digital opera offering was L’arietta’s way of keeping operatic performances alive in a time of safe distancing. Its everyday setting also narrows the distance between the art form and its audiences. What sets this work apart too, is the way it marries broadcast with social media interaction, further blurring the lines between the stage and real life.
The production is a serialised offering that unfolds over eight weeks, from 12 June to 31 July. Each week, a different character takes the spotlight with a Facebook livestream performance of an aria, and an Instagram takeover of L’arietta’s account, providing a glimpse into the character’s life for a day. While the vibe of the production is intimate, informal and unpretentious, pulling it off was no casual endeavour.
For one, the safe distancing measures meant that the performances had to be filmed without the physical crew on-site; cue family members as stand-ins. They received training over Zoom on how to operate the cameras and carried out instructions while the director and director of photography ran the filming remotely. L’arietta’s co-artistic director Reuben Lai, who is part of the cast, says: “Our family members did give us weird looks from time to time, and that was mostly amusing.”
With the filming done at home, interruptions and bloopers were also unavoidable. Lai says: “One of the shoots featured one of my cats, and my other cat desperately wanted to be in the shot too. This led to some funny bloopers, and the director had to not only direct me but also our feline stars.”
Producing a digital opera from home is also labour intensive. The process involves everything from storyboarding to the shoot, doing re-recordings and editing the footage. Lai says: “What you see is 2 minutes, but the filming takes about 7 hours, so all of our families had to endure our singing for an entire day.”
L’arietta’s co-founder and co-artistic director Akiko Otao, who is also part of the cast, says the effort is all worth it. Otao says: “This show has proved that as long as we tell our stories authentically, we can reach out to the audience from our homes with very little. Whilst we miss connecting with everyone physically in the theatre, we hope that All Dressed Up (No Place to Go) creates empathy and a feeling of connection as human beings.”