UofT Opera | An Inside Look at A Little Nacht Music: How to film opera scenes in a pandemic
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An Inside Look at A Little Nacht Music: How to film opera scenes in a pandemic

An Inside Look at A Little Nacht Music: How to film opera scenes in a pandemic

As we near the end of the term and our singers are getting ready for the winter holiday, we thought we would take a minute to reflect on the year so far. We’ve had a busy, wonderful, and unique semester packed with singing, learning, and innovative programming. The highlight of this term for many of the students was our main fall production, A Little Nacht Music. Filmed, produced, and streamed in November, UofT Opera took innovative measures to ensure the safety of the students and staff, while maintaining our trademark musical excellence. This was a show like none other, and we wanted to give you a glimpse into the rehearsal and recording process.

We asked a few students to share some of their experiences performing A Little Nacht Music, and this is what they said…

Angelo Moretti, first-year tenor

“With COVID taking a toll on most of our singing gigs, I think all of us were eager to see what was possible in terms of live performance this year. I am so incredibly grateful for our team at UofT opera for giving us the opportunity to be back on stage, hearing our voices ring in a space bigger than our own rooms at home!

I have always imagined, since joining the opera undergrad program at UofT a couple years ago, what my first performance on Macmillan stage might look like as a master’s student. Never would I have thought it would look like this: face masks, plexiglass barriers, freshly mopped floors, and a tarp over the piano in the pit. These were the precautions put in place to keep all of us safe during our production of A Little Nacht Music.

There were many changes we had to make prior to the concert, such as going for individual, socially distanced costume fittings, learning how to apply makeup for tv cameras, and listening and watching pre-recorded videos of the conducting for our ensemble numbers.

Singing in the theatre was so refreshing! With the lights low, and the adrenaline running high, I barely noticed the cameras were even there! The main difference from a live show is that we had the ability to go through multiple takes of our performances. However, more repetitions in the theatre meant more time using my voice. This experience taught me how to preserve my voice, to know when to mark, and when to sing full voice. I will definitely be calling upon this experience for future rehearsals and shows! Overall, it was a very heartwarming experience and made me realize just how much I missed collaborating with my incredible peers at UofT Opera! I’m very excited for what’s to come!”

Sacha Smith, second-year soprano

“Due to the changing COVID landscape both of my selections for U of T’s A little Night Music were recorded, filmed and edited at home.

“Of course, I will film my video outside! Of course, I will wear a gown! Of course, I will find some woods in downtown Toronto!” …Well perhaps I should have checked the weather forecast before so enthusiastically offering to film my segment of Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

At 9am on a bitterly cold November morning, I made my way to the bottom of Riverdale park in an unbeatable combination of a shoulder-less gown, coiffed hair, full face of makeup, woolly socks, thermal leggings and a muddy set of Blundstones.

Much like my outfit and the uncooperative weather, the location was part-magical, part-biting reality. I stood in the middle of woodsy trail, only occasionally interrupted by an angry car honking from the DVP, a more than confused jogger in neon, but most often a local dog wondering who the heck this new Diva was flouncing around and singing on their territory.

I’m afraid none that footage made the final cut… it failed to capture the ‘Snow White’ vibe quite the way I had intended.

Nevertheless, by the end of the hour I had a version which I was happy with! I came home, synced the audio with the visual and sent it off to my partner Nick so he could match out shots and reactions as best as possible.

My other ensemble also had to be filmed in 4 different locations – the Act 3 quartet from La Bohème. Rodolfo was in Vaughn, ON, Mimi and Musetta in the east and west end of Toronto, and Marcello living a painter’s life in New Brunswick.

After a few meetings and phone calls we decided we should simply film the quartet the only way we could.. and a way that we were more than familiar with by now, on ZOOM.

The quartet’s plan was to meet on a patio in the hope of wine, charcuterie & good company – however.. like the rest of the world they have found themselves indoors and have taken their cocktail hour to ZOOM. We wanted to make sure each character sat in a space that is indicative of their lifestyle, they held a drink that is representative of their flair and that the drama unfolded in real time and existed within the reality and parameters of ZOOM.

We all recorded our audio at home, and then Eli Theocharidis and I mixed together the four separate audio tracks together. Then we sent out a master MP3 along with a storyboard so that we could all listen to each other’s’ parts and film our scenes at home. The turnaround on this project was incredibly fast. The next day everyone had filmed their scenes and Eli and I got to work combining the videos and photoshopping the shots into our ZOOM layout. It was a ton of fun!”

Danlie Rae Acebuque, first-year baritone

“During the week of preparing to film for A Little Nacht Music, our conductor Sandra Horst emailed me and asked me to learn Figaro’s part for the trio from The Barber of Seville (Zitti, Zitti, Piano, Piano) as someone was unable to make it on the filming day. I was hesitant at first to accept the offer only because the number was being filmed in four days. I thought about it for a long time before accepting it. Since Figaro is one of my dream roles, I said yes to the offer. It was a really good opportunity to get some experience and coaching on this awesome role.

The learning process for this trio was pretty intense since I had only a few days to learn it. I started with the difficult passages such as the coloratura passages since I was not sure how fast the other singers wanted to take it. Thankfully, the Opera Division had made a conducting track for me to follow along and sing which I found very helpful! I had a coaching and run-through with all the musicians, and the next day we filmed. It was definitely a challenge, but I just stayed calm and focused so that I wouldn’t give in to the idea of nervousness.

What I thought about that week is: under any circumstances, you must be prepared, trust your guts and be diligent with your time because anything can happen in the music industry! In the professional world, things like this happen all the time, and I was very grateful for the experience, because it taught me that I have the skills to do this kind of thing- I feel a lot more confident about being able to learn challenging music quickly in the future!”

Noelle Slaney, first-year soprano

“The pandemic has been both a challenge and a blessing in disguise.  I’ve never prioritized the filming process before now because there wasn’t a need.  I always had access to a theatre space with good lighting and all I ever had to do was set up my camera and sing.  Sometimes, the school technician would even engineer the whole thing for me.

But this year was different.  All of the theatres are closed, and my school is over 3000 km away.

Filming A Little Nacht Music was a huge learning experience.  In a week, I learned entire new skill sets in lighting, recording and editing.  For just $40, I was able to create a professional looking three-point lighting set up with some work lights from Canadian Tire in a space donated to me by the Delta hotel.

The morning of my recording, I checked all of my lists to make sure I had all of my equipment.  Usually, I’m just in charge of my gown and shoes but this time, I was keeping track of every last microphone, stand, and cable that I would need to create my video.  I thought I had covered everything.  However, when I arrived at the space, I discovered that the piano had three or four notes that were horribly out of tune.  Thankfully, my collaborative pianist is an absolute genius and was able to fix the troublesome keys by wedging the strings with some folded-up bits of printer paper.  Thankfully, that was the most difficult part of the entire process.

Once I recorded, the editing process wasn’t nearly as complicated as I had imagined it would be.  I discovered that I actually really like being involved in other parts of the creative process and I’m looking forward to more projects like this in the future!”

A Little Nacht Music is still available to stream, you can watch it here!  So grab a nice warm drink and spend a cozy December evening with us.

UofT Opera wishes you and yours a restful and joyous holiday, see you in the New Year!