While opera houses and live music events are at an indefinite halt, singers are performing opera one-on-one to audiences over the phone.
In a time where the global coronavirus pandemic has formed a gap between musicians and music enthusiasts, and live performances like opera seem only a possibility in the distant future, as an homage to the 250th birth anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven, On Site Opera has initiated production of the world-renowned composer’s An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved) – a song cycle about how music has the power to transcend space and time – to be performed entirely over an interactive phone call between the artist and the audience. Under the title To My Distant Love, the audience can choose between soprano Jennifer Zetlan with pianist David Shimoni, or baritone Mario Diaz-Moresco with pianist Spencer Myer. Alongside, playwright Monet Hurst-Mendoza provides texts which add ‘a touch of a contemporary whimsy’ to the collection of songs Beethoven wrote in 1816, said Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim of The New York Times.
At $40 a ticket, this remote immersive opera experience entails two “love letters” via e-mail which contain the translations of the songs by Alois Isidor Jeitteles. The performance will run for approximately twenty minutes over a voice call (no app or platform required) of singing in German with additional English dialogues and will start off with the singer engaging the audience with a brief interaction – the conversation would be intended to appeal to a ‘past memory’ of its recipient, explained Wollheim. On the day of the performance, the artist will initiate the call at the audience’s provided number at the scheduled performance time. In case the call is missed, the artist will wait for a few minutes and try again. In case of disconnection mid-performance, the artist will try to connect again. However, in case of a no-show, there will be no refund or reschedule, stated On Site Opera. While the whole set up is to make the recipient feel like they are the ‘distant beloved’ of the artist, one ticket purchasing option also allows a performance to be booked to go to someone else.
While the question of whether the phone performance could be awkward arises, Wollheim says that as the performance had begun, “the telephone was the thin line connecting performer and listener” which bared testimony to the fact that in Beethoven’s songs, “clouds, breezes, and music itself become conduits that traverse the space between two souls.” During such a time as now when the internet is filled to the brim with numerous mass live-streams, On Site Opera’s production offered a personalized – albeit imperfect – “fragile and precious” musical experience, explained Wollheim.
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