By Caryl Clark, current Faculty Research Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute
When performing arts organizations were shut down last spring because of the pandemic, many turned to online programming. Suddenly the Internet became the main medium of transmission, with singers and instrumentalists sharing video recordings on a range of digital platforms, providing much-needed comfort to home audiences near and far. Despite the intent and creativity provided by online digital performances, I (and many others) couldn’t help but feel they were a poor facsimile for the real thing. Nothing can really replicate the synergy between singer and listener live and in real time.
Enter Tapestry Opera’s Box Concerts, a curbside concert initiative designed to bring people together safely to experience live music.
Building on a long history of travelling musical productions and outdoor street theatre, members of Tapestry spent the summer transporting a small mobile stage to various neighbourhoods in Toronto to bring singers face-to-face with their audiences. How grateful these audiences were for the opportunity to hear live performances once again!
I recently hosted a Box Concert on my street, gathering together a small group of friends and neighbours. Even before the event began, we knew we were in for a special treat. As the trailer pulled up, soprano Natalya Gennadi and her assistant and sound technician, Tristan, both wearing masks, quickly assessed the performance venue.
While Tristan set up the portable stage, microphone and speakers, Natalya returned to her makeshift greenroom—the vehicle’s passenger seat—to get ready. No proper place for vocal warm-ups? No worries, just run through a few scales before stepping up onto the stage for a quick soundcheck as the audience assembles in physically distant fashion.
Sound travels, so it didn’t take long for our small audience to swell with passersby, cyclists, parents pushing strollers, and dog walkers—all drawn together into a community of listeners to experience firsthand the extraordinary power of the human voice to touch hearts and temporarily transport us to a new place. From operatic mainstays like Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” and Léhar’s “Vilja,” to popular songs, we were reminded in the end that, despite all the current troubles, “what a wonderful world” it is.
Tapestry Opera is part of Indie Opera T. O., an opera collective made up of over a dozen smaller companies working together to promote innovative opera productions in our city. As creative incubators, they promote (re)invention and alternative perspectives within the operatic medium, bringing new audiences along with them. They certainly brought people in my neighbourhood together. As ever, beauty experienced directly and collectively inspired new hope for the future.