It’s been a long covid year for the USD Opera Department, admits Tracelyn Gesteland. When the pandemic hit, opera students went virtual for a while, and then masked. Despite the challenges, the students persevered, and now they are offering both virtual and in-person events to celebrate opera as the school year comes to a close.
“Like all educators, I had to be creative this year because of the pandemic,” said Gesteland, a professor of music and director of the opera program at USD. “Based on the research that I did over the summer and during the fall, it seemed that traditional stage productions were risky for performers and audiences, so I decided to go in a different direction. I programmed a virtual opera along with a series of live outdoor concerts with masks and social distancing.”
These events will take place next weekend, April 30 through May 2, and include a virtual opera that the students filmed and a series of outdoor concerts.
Said Gesteland: “Although it looked very different this year, the opera program is alive and well at USD. We did almost everything online and that was challenging, but the students rose to the occasion and exceeded expectations. I am so proud of what we were able to achieve in a very challenging year!”
The virtual production is called “Zoom Speed Dating Tonight” and will air Saturday, May 1, at 7:30 p.m. at www.usd.edu/livemusic. The show features a range of styles, from opera and musical theatre to cabaret and pop music.
“Zoom Speed Dating Tonight takes a funny yet poignant look at the challenges of human connection during a global pandemic,” explains Gesteland, who directed the production. “Join us for a virtual date night as a motley crew of characters searches for love, sex, and everything in between. Featuring music and words by Michael Ching, based on a concept by Dean Anthony.”
The production was an interesting challenge for the students, said Gesteland.
“The virtual opera was perfect for us, because students could rehearse and perform from the safety of their homes and dorm rooms,” said Gesteland. “This format also opened up the opportunity for us to include alumni from all around the country, so the performance will include current students along with several graduates from our program.”
There was also a steep learning curve to producing the production.
“The students and I learned a lot from doing the virtual opera,” she said. “Putting together this production was an entirely new process for us. Students pre-recorded their vocals to accompaniment tracks and then lip-synched to those tracks to record their videos. A videographer synched the audio and video recordings and put it all together according to my plan for the overall show. One challenge was that even though the show is called "Zoom Speed Dating Tonight," Zoom was not actually used in most cases, so the characters were not reacting to each other in real time, kind of like filming a movie about a dinosaur without the dinosaur present. There was a lot of imagination required in the filming process.”
It is an event you should not miss, said Gesteland.
“Audiences should tune into the "Zoom Speed Dating Tonight" production, because it is really fun and there is something for everyone,” she said. “It is only a little over an hour long, and it is an opportunity to hear many of our great USD Opera singers from the past and present.”
Also next weekend, the USD Opera program will deliver live, outdoor music events that Gesteland is calling “Opera Pop-Ups.” These live concerts will feature singers from the USD Opera program directed by Gesteland and accompanied by a chamber orchestra directed by USD’s Dr. Luis Viquez.
“Come hear performances of your favorite arias and duets in the great outdoors!” said Gesteland. “Come hear highlights by Puccini, Mozart, Gounod, Leoncavallo, and many more.”
The performances will take place Friday, April 30, from noon to 1 p.m. on the USD campus between Slagle Hall and Old Main and then again later that day from 5 to 6 p.m. downtown on the Platz (corner of Main and Market Streets). On Saturday, May 1, the Opera Pop-Up moves to Levitt at the Falls (504 N. Phillips Avenue) in Sioux Falls from noon to 1 p.m. From 3 to 4 p.m. on May 1, the Pop-Up will be at the McKennan Park Bandshell (1400 S. 3rd Ave.) in Sioux Falls. Sunday, May 2nd, you can catch the Opera Pop-up from 2 to 3 pm. at the Riverside Park Amphitheater (200 Levee Street) in Yankton.
“I wanted the students to have the experience of singing solo with a live orchestra, even though we couldn't do a traditional production,” explains Gesteland. “This is how the concept for the Opera Pop-Ups came about. Outside performances are safer than inside ones, so this felt like a good way to end our semester and give students some live performing experience. We will have 11 singers with a chamber orchestra of 11 players. I did the vocal direction and my wonderful colleague, Luis Viquez, is conducting the performances.”
Of course, there’s nothing like hearing music live, and that’s why everyone should try to catch one of the pop-up concerts, said Gesteland.
“People should come out and hear some LIVE MUSIC, as there aren't that many chances to do so right now,” said Gesteland. “We'll be performing highlights from some of the greatest and most loved operas. Please bring chairs or blankets and enjoy a community experience. Social distancing and masks are requested. Weather permitting.”