No. 13 • 2020-08-05

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The Opera Philadelphia Channel

It’s a gross understatement to say that the pandemic has upended the arts and culture communities. Performing arts organizations dependent on live audiences have all been forced to reexamine fundamental assumptions and adapt quickly after cancelling some or all of the 2020-21 season. Many have turned to online content, primarily streaming performances from back catalogs, while sprinkling in a few experiments with virtual live/recorded performances (mostly available for free, but sometimes for a fee or donation).

Long before COVID-19, but amidst a challenging arts landscape, Opera Philadelphia has demonstrated a willingness to embrace non-traditional, innovative approaches. The company refocused around a new model in 2017, launching the inaugural O Festival. It was billed as operatic binge watching… a way to “Netflix the [live] opera experience”. In early May I wrote about their Digital Festival O (you can still stream 3 of their world premiere productions, through the end of August), a timely reaction to the necessities of the pandemic. I think this quick experiment has been invaluable for creating the path to the future.

Now, rather than Netflix-ing live opera, they are opera-tizing Netflix. The Fall 2020 festival can’t happen as planned, so the company has rapidly pivoted its 20-21 season to the new Opera Philadelphia Channel, a streaming service.

It’s a lineup of primarily premieres and reimagined works filmed specifically for this format, favoring new work over pre-existing recordings. The back-catalog may appeal to opera lovers, but it also lacks a sense of immediacy (after all, it’s already part of history and you can watch it later). The premiere of new work is an event, tied to a particular moment in time, which I believe to be crucial for the performing arts.

Most interesting to me, they will “commission and premiere four new digital works from some of today’s most dynamic composers”. My hope is that they will lean into the possibilities of the video format with these new commissions. Filmed versions of staged operas and recitals are really just a nostalgic substitute, but new digital works can define a new genre. Put another way, the native medium of opera is live performance, and it’s difficult to build audiences through something that’s a shadow of the real thing. But there’s an opportunity to create new fans of this emerging content medium that is digitally native.

It’s a bold move. This is the time to experiment, and to embrace new ways of creating. A season subscription is $99 (some will perceive as low and others will think it’s absurdly high). I think it’s priced correctly… Artists and arts organizations should be paid, and it’s going to take a lot to film and produce these works. Efforts like this are a big reason I’m a fan of the company, and I applaud Opera Philadelphia for jumping headfirst into this experiment.

(Socially) Distant Creations

What I’m creating

Last week, I presented an online session, Keep Singing! – Creating a Virtual Chorusfor the Apple Distinguished Educator Festival of Learning. It’s a one-hour tutorial, primarily for music educators, summarizing the process of creating a virtual chorus, from recording to audio mixing to video editing. I hope you’ll share it with anyone who might find it helpful.

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