COVID-19 has brought many major changes to the Missouri State campus. Masks are required in all buildings and many classes and events are now entirely virtual. It may seem impossible that an art form like opera would survive in these new, unprecedented times, but Dr. Ann Marie Daehn is making sure that MSU Opera Theater continues to operate as normally—and safely—as possible.
Opera is a blend of many art forms: it incorporates the dramatic arts, the virtual arts, movement, singing and orchestra. All of these are high-contact activities.
“This year we’ve adjusted our numbers, our rehearsal space, our time together and exchanged the grand opera for the micro opera. On good weather days we have rehearsed or held class meetings outside and music was largely rehearsed with my colleague Dr. [Sam] Oram on Zoom. When we met indoors, we spaced at least 16 feet from the pianist, were masked and limited rehearsal time—trying to incorporate ‘air circulation’ time into our rehearsal,” Daehn says.
In years past, the opera usually performed one or two nights of scenes or a large opera—both with a large audience. This fall, however, Daehn opted to place all performances outside and to only perform micro operas: short operas between 5 and 25 minutes long.
Daehn says, “The casts are very small—between 2 and 4 people. Normally, our performance is in mid-November, but to catch the good weather, we already have performed twice, and have two performance dates to go. It’s been a challenge to get them ready so early in the year, but the students have been motivated and have worked hard.”
Because these micro operas were outside, a small, live audience was possible. The operas were also streamed online through Facebook Live.
“My number one goal was to continue to offer performance opportunities. Interestingly enough, students have had several new experiences that hadn’t occurred to me. Most have never sung solos outdoors and had never used a body mic—opera tends to be acoustic. I also wanted as many students to have the opportunity to perform a full role as possible, so for many this is their first featured role. We have a large number of incredibly talented singers and they all deserve to leave MSU with as much experience as I can provide. Yes, much of my goals have purely been to survive and ensure the safety of my singers and audience, but I also just want them to see a project through from beginning to end and grow as performers,” Daehn says.
Daehn hopes to further expand the opera in the spring.
Daehn adds, “This spring we are hoping to do a more traditional program—a double bill of Puccini’s ‘Gianni Schicci’ and Michael Ching’s ‘Buoso’s Ghost.’ There are more actors on stage, but I think I have an interesting solution. It is a little unorthodox, but these times demand creativity! Be sure to check us out in the spring to see how we’ve made big opera safe!”