MIOpera is filling a big opera-sized hole in the arts community by offering a chance to enjoy performances by some up-and-coming singers.
For the past decade, MIOpera’s mission has been to showcase the work of emerging young artists, featuring a summer season of live opera--from Verdi to Mozart to Gilbert & Sullivan.
But the Bloomington-Normal-based organization was forced to pull the plug on its 2020 season, leaving silence where once sopranos and tenors reigned. But rather than allowing COVID-19 to play the role of the art-crushing villain, MIOpera founders John and Tracy Koch recast the entire situation, creating opportunities for what the Kochs dubbed "quarantine opera."
Singers were cast for role study performances from Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale.” The performances will air on YouTube at 2 p.m. Nov. 21-22.
“We sent them recordings of the accompaniment, and then they act it out,” Tracy Koch explained. “We stage it in their homes. They perform and record it, and we turn it into a performance. It’s really cool, and it gives them a way to get more experience, as well as keep MIOpera alive online.”
A role study involves an artist focusing on a certain opera role the artist wants to master. It’s a demanding process, and the Kochs first determine if the singers have the right stuff to apply themselves to a role study. Artists who are ready to take on a role study get intensive training, said Tracy Koch.
“We coach them on diction, musical style and we stage their scenes as if they’re performing the full role. I work with them on dramatic coaching, and John is doing vocal coaching.”
The singers also work with a conductor in their role study. “Romeo and Juliet” is in French and “Don Pasquale” is in Italian, so the artists must strengthen their command of those languages, said John Koch.
“And another focus is the video aspect. We’re trying to teach singers the best way to make videos. We’re giving them as much tech help as we can so that they can make the best product right now. They didn’t realize that a lot of stuff they can do really well at home, just in a corner of their living room, which is amazing.”
“We like to focus on the positive of the situation,” added Tracy Koch. “There can be really great things artistically happening in this time, even though we’re in a really scary time.”
Although technology has made many things possible for MIOpera, there also have been challenges to overcome, John Koch revealed. Like opera singers really need a good microphone.
“Because they’re singing loud, they’re singing high. Most laptop computers and cell phones do not record the singing voice very well," he said. "It gets to a certain point at a volume or a pitch range where it just starts to distort and crackle. And that’s no fun. So, we’re trying to help them, making suggestions for technology to help them build a system.
“No singer wants to go out right now and spend $1,000 dollars on audio equipment to make this better because they feel that they can’t afford it. You could do it for a lot less than that. Actually, about $200 for a decent mic system is about all you really need.”
The two operas featured in the role study performances are perfect for this time, said Tracy Koch.
“These operas are just awesome,” she enthused. “”Romeo and Juliet” is just beautiful music, great story! It’s really pertinent to the time. The whole idea of a group of people having this feud, just having these social clashes--it speaks to our world today beautifully. The music of Gounod sets it stunningly.”
And then there’s “Don Pasquale,” which is opera buffa. And where there’s buffa, there’s laughs. (Because opera buffa means comic opera.)
“It’s satire and hysterical fun,” explained Tracy Koch, adding both operas are in the standard repertoire that singers need to learn and know in the course of their careers.
Don’t speak Italian or French? No worries--the role study performances will have supertitles.
“So, it’s accessible to all. Everyone can understand the stories and really enjoy them,” said Tracy Koch.
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