I reached out to Artistic Director Marshall Pynkoski and Music Director Christopher Bagan to learn more about what it has been like for a company specializing in live 17th and 18th-century productions to mount a physically distant performance.
1. A total of 14 performers (musicians and dancers) will perform in 1 hour, suggesting there will be collaborations. How do you facilitate a “physically distant” performance and maintain ensemble? Is someone conducting?
2. Audience members will be live streaming the performance from Opera Atelier’s website. The performers will not be able to see the audience. Did they implement any strategies during rehearsal to sustain performance energy without being able to draw from the audience’s response?
It’s not my experience that seasoned performers require any particular strategies when performing for a camera as opposed to a live audience. Watching Opera Atelier’s singers and dancers, it becomes clear that the camera itself becomes the audience and they are just as focused on a clear, coherent performance as they would be in the theatre. In some respects, I feel as though they are even more pressured when singing to the camera as they know their performance is going to have a life beyond a single viewing. I find that this, perhaps, is what adds an additional edge and immediacy to the performances in Together/Apart.
3. How do you co-ordinate the tech setup at each location from a distance?
Since we have performers located across half the globe, each with different restrictions in place as to what could be acquired or rented, simplicity of setup was key. Microphone quality varied widely in each location, and there’s not much that could be done about that. Nevertheless, as long as we could obtain a clean, relatively neutral basic sound with no distortion, we could then manipulate it in the editing room to make the sound come together.
4. What sort of tech did each performer need to participate?
Each individual performer needed really only a microphone and a camera, as well as a means to transfer large files across the internet. Often the camera was simply a smartphone or tablet, or possibly a small camcorder. The ubiquitous range of inexpensive, good-quality handheld recorders available now gave us a decent audio capture potential.
5. Did you need to invest in new tech to sync everything up?
An understanding of the music to be recorded, as well as the needs of the performers moment to moment within each piece, required an array of methods to sync up all the various elements in a final mix. These included full or partial click-tracks, digital manipulation as well as some trial-and-error. A solid DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is vital — we used Cockos Reaper, as well as a few select plugins — Valhalla Room (Reverb) and PianoTeq (Digital Harpsichord). Depending on the number of parts involved in each piece — ranging from one singer and piano accompaniment to full Baroque Orchestra — the time invested to produce the final result varied greatly.
Together/Apart airs at OperaAtelier.com on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 at 8 PM, EST.