Theatres, opera houses, pubs and so on are all under an enforced shutdown. Performances have been cancelled and all kinds of events that were in my diary are no longer going ahead. We’re all stuck at home and trying to adapt to this new and strange way of living.
If you’re anything like me, music and live performance significantly contribute to your sense of wellbeing, making them particularly important in difficult times like these, just when access to them is severely limited. Also, performers don’t get paid if they’re not performing, while venues and companies aren’t making money if no one can visit. So many of them are fusing creativity and technology to stream ‘live’ performance to your living room.
Some organisations are putting whole operas online for free, while performers are getting together in the virtual world to record music that they’re making available on various social media platforms. The main ones are YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.
The first of these is best for full-length works and the channel to subscribe to is OperaVision. This project, which is supported by the European Union’s Creative Europe programme, works with 29 opera houses from 17 countries to provide high-quality live-streamed operas. These usually happen in real time, but as no such performances are occurring right now, you can access – for free! – some previous recordings.
This includes the online premiere of Jonathan Miller’s production of Così fan tutte (Women Are Like That, Mozart, 1790), as part of the Royal Opera House’s #OurHouseToYourHouse series. This will make available a selection of works from the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet during lockdown.
Many of the world’s major opera houses have their own YouTube channels. These feature arias, interviews, workshops and more – just search for whichever ones you’re interested in.
English Touring Opera, in celebration of Easter Sunday, used its YouTube channel to premiere a special performance of Bach’s sacred oratorio St John Passion (1724), which the company was due to take to venues across the UK. It wove together footage of a live performance at London’s Hackney Empire on 5 March – the only one the company managed prior to lockdown – with 90 individual video contributions from choir members in isolation from Cumbria to Cornwall.
Opera North, as part of the company’s #OperaNorthAtHome initiative, uploaded 2020: An Isolation Odyssey, a recording of the iconic opening of Strauss’s tone poem ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ (1896). In a testimony to inventiveness, Swedish conductor Tobias Ringborg used a camera phone to film himself conducting the piece in a deserted church in Stockholm.
The video was sent to 40 members of the Orchestra of Opera North, each of whom donned full concert dress and recorded their parts individually at home. They filmed themselves in kitchens, spare rooms, gardens – even, in the case of percussionist Chris Bradley, as they took their daily exercise.
Instagram and Facebook aren’t as well suited to saving long-form performances for later consumption, the former particularly (the clue’s in the name!). But they are good for live video or short, individual performances by singers and musicians – often just using a smartphone. Search for your favourite artists and then follow their accounts to see what they might be doing.
A good place to start with is the BBC Singers Facebook page. Members of the BBC’s in-house professional chamber choir have recorded themselves in isolation, along with members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, performing Mozart’s supremely beautiful motet ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ (1791). The page also contains links to other works uploaded to the BBC, such as an isolation version of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, a sacred oratorio first performed in 1727.
It’s not just opera and music, either. There’s a whole host of virtual culture for you to enjoy during this time of lockdown. The National Theatre is making available entire plays via its YouTube channel. The Shows Must Go On is a brand new channel dedicated to showing theatre while venues are shut. These are only available for 48 hours, after which they can be bought or rented. Shows so far include Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar and The Phantom of the Opera.
Patrick Stewart has been reading ‘a sonnet a day’ on his Twitter feed, and head over to Soundcloud for #PandemicPoems, a project by Samuel West reading poetry for every day of the lockdown, with the works suggested by his Twitter followers.
All of this is free – at a time when performers and theatres aren’t making any money. Many venues are asking for donations. If you can, maybe think about putting a few pounds their way. It’s much cheaper than the cost of a theatre ticket and will help keep these places going when we’re back to normal. Check out individual venues’ websites for details.
There is a time limit on many of the videos, though, so do get in there quick!
The Orchestra of Opera North perform 2020 An Isolation Odyssey, which is available to watch for free on YouTube.