The Opera Queensland event that was due to tour Queensland earlier this year before the pandemic intervened, has instead brought performers and opera lovers all over the State together in the virtual room.
Technology combined with innovation has brought aspiring performers across Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Toowoomba and the Gold Coast the opportunity to record themselves singing the Te Deum, the powerful closing piece of Act 1 of Tosca.
Brought to life by celebrated sound designer Geoff McGahn and videographer and lighting designer Mark Howett, the Project Te Deum recordings have been streaming in each centre since last week.
Delivering the final polished product has meant hours of chorus rehearsal via Zoom video conferencing.
Groups engaged several times a week, both together as a mass chorus of more than 85, learning and developing with Opera Queensland artists, as well as participating in support sessions with their specific local community.
InQueensland spoke with Opera Queensland’s director of learning, regional and community, Mark Taylor, to discover more about the project and whether plans to hold another virtual singing program may be on the cards.
InQueensland: Why has Project Te Deum been a worthwhile exercise for Opera Queensland?
Mark Taylor: It was disappointing to have to cancel the seven-location Tosca tour, particularly after already having so many Queenslanders register to be involved. Although not able to replace the scale nor outcomes of a month-long tour, it has allowed Opera Queensland to re-connect with community members from previous tours and also meet many new faces. In addition, arts during time of uncertainty is vital and offers an outlet from the challenges of the Covid world in which we’ve all lived this year.
Another incredibly worthwhile component of this project was the capacity to offer the engagement of a children’s chorus. Repertoire in recent tours has not required children’s chorus, hence Tosca was to be our first regional chorus offering since La Boheme in 2014. All children that expressed interest attended the sessions with enthusiasm and have submitted their videos. Due to the length of time between choruses all child participants were new to OQ while many children performers from 2014 are now members of our adult chorus.
IQ: What have been the greatest challenges in staging the video rehearsals with such a large group in so many different locations?
MT: The greatest challenge using video conferencing for rehearsals has been the inability for participants to hear each other sing. This challenge was conquered by Opera Queensland providing a backing track featuring Opera Queensland artists allowing all community participants to sing along with the Opera Queensland team and feel a part of something greater whilst in their own home.
IQ: What have been the rewards for Opera Queensland?
MT: It’s been incredibly rewarding seeing children and adults from across the State initially face the challenges of the music and Italian language. The first sessions brought up many questions from a nervous but excited group. All participants rose to the challenge and had a great deal of fun along the way. In projects such as this the process is just an important and the product and seeing the learning and growth in the community chorus has been a great reward.
IQ: What has surprised the project’s leaders during rehearsals?
MT: The biggest surprise was how easily the project translated to a digital offering. We had concerns regarding the possible insular nature of rehearsing and performing in one’s home rather than in a large group. The frequent video catch-up and use of Facebook pages for open discussion really assist in this.
IQ: Would Opera Queensland consider doing this again, with or without Covid?
MT: The necessity to deliver the project this way due to Covid has brought many learnings to the organisation. Online delivery cannot and will not replace the important and power of creation of and delivery of arts in a face to face setting. This said, Opera Queensland have learnt the power of these tools to engage more widely with Queenslanders and share skills without the costs and time required for travel. We will return to face to face touring as soon as possible, but the capacity to work with community members remotely in the lead up to these tours and conquer the tyranny of distance via the use of digital tools to ensure greater participation has capacity for us far beyond the Te Deum.
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