The London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) and VOPERA: The Virtual Opera Project have announced their inaugural production of Maurice Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells, 1925). The premiere is set for 16 November 2020 at 8pm on LPO’s YouTube channel.
The new production is a world first. It brings together global Zoom auditions and rehearsals, socially distanced orchestral studio recording, individually captured audio recordings, hand-drawn set and costumes, and body-double acting using a homemade green-screen studio overlaid with the recorded cast’s singing faces to create a unique digital opera.
The LPO – the resident orchestra at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall – will be conducted by Lee Reynolds. The British conductor has created a specially reduced arrangement of Ravel’s music to enable the orchestra to record the score in line with Covid-19 restrictions, reworking Ravel’s extraordinary opera for an ensemble of 27 musicians.
A cast of more than 80 singers will join the orchestra. The role of L’Enfant is sung by Australian mezzo-soprano Emily Edmonds. Scottish mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill takes the role of Maman, while American bass-baritone Michael Sumuel plays Un Arbre.
Conductor Reynolds commented: “We’ve all faced a huge challenge in discovering how musicians, spread thousands of miles apart, can make meaningful music together, and this brilliantly ambitious project has demanded solutions that none of us could have dreamed of only months ago.
“From the smallest steps like refining how to share musical ideas, rehearse and do amazing things over an internet connection from half a planet away, right up to our 360º orchestral recording layout, this project has proven that with enough determination and pioneering creativity, opera can happen, even in these extraordinary times.”
The opera is directed by freelance opera stage director Rachael Hewer. It tells the story of a child faced with a completely unexpected and unpredictable situation in a world that is no longer quite what it seems.
VOPERA is the brainchild of Hewer, who wanted to provide a means for artists and musicians to carry on working during the Covid-19 health crisis. The project has enabled more than 135 freelance musicians, artists, creatives, technicians, producers and administrators from around the world to be able to do their jobs again and to receive a fee.
“I wanted to make something that people can be actively and creatively involved in,” she commented. “We are all worried about the pressures – both health related and financial – that the pandemic has put us under, but fundamentally the emotional impact of not working and not making music is being underestimated. I can do something about that. This project involves dozens of artists working individually and together. Singers need to sing, players need to play, and I can make that possible.”
LPO Chief Executive David Burke said of the collaboration: “It is especially rewarding for all of us at the LPO to be collaborating with VOPERA on this project, given the current restrictive situation in the arts. It’s an opportunity for the orchestra to flex its muscles in the digital space, and with our ability to rehearse and record at a social distance, we are delighted to be able to continue to support projects such as this one. I am excited to see how the finished production comes together.”
L’Enfant et les sortilèges premieres on 16 November 2020 at 8pm (UK time) on the LPO’s YouTube channel, and will be available to stream free of charge from anywhere in the world for 30 days.
VOPERA’s new production of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges used a virtual green-screen studio to bring together body-double actors and the recorded cast.