After UNC Opera was unable to meet in person during the fall 2020 semester, a TikTopera was born. Marc Callahan, director of UNC Opera, determined the show must go on and decided the company would perform “The Child and the Spells” through a series of Snapchat, TikTok and YouCam Fun videos.
“We thought that using social media and modern technology, we could create characters — from squirrels to cats to a grandfather clock — all virtually,” Callahan said.
Callahan said the opera “The Child and the Spells” by Maurice Ravel is about a child who has to stay home and do his homework during the 1918 influenza pandemic. The child’s frustration causes him to lash out on the objects in his house, which then come to life and scold him for his actions.
“We saw a lot of parallels between what we're dealing with now, with staying at home and having to do Zoom lessons, and what the child is experiencing with being locked in the house,” Callahan said.
Ally Dunavant has been a part of UNC Opera since her first year and wasn't sure they would be able to pull off the daunting challenge of putting on an opera virtually.
“It's not at all, in my opinion, a replacement for that real-life timing and connection that making music with other people needs,” Dunavant said. “But it worked for the time being, and we still were able to put out something that we're really proud of.”
The cast had to adapt to practicing over Zoom, which entailed technical difficulties and led to each singer having to work mostly independently.
“Though I am the director of UNC Opera, they really had to self-direct so many of these scenes,” Callahan said.
Sophomore Julia Holoman, who played the child in the opera, faced a distinct challenge as she was scripted to appear several times throughout the opera and had to interact with people she was not physically with.
“Dr. Callahan really encouraged everyone to be their own director in a way, because you can't receive one-on-one coaching in this sort of situation,” Holoman said. “He was very encouraging to everyone to be their own artist and bring their own ideas to the table.”
Throughout the entire process, Callahan was focused on creating a fun experience using the mediums already ingrained in society’s culture in hopes of making opera seem more relatable.
“I want people to feel like opera is not something that is so far removed from their own lives and that opera is not something that is completely incomprehensible or boring,” Callahan said. “I really want people to see opera as something that's relevant, that's fun and that everybody can take part in.”
Callahan said UNC Opera’s fall performance opened the door to the countless possibilities opera has to reach new audiences and experiment with different digital installations in the future.
“I just wanted people to have fun, because that's one thing I think we've not been having,” Holoman said. “I hope people are a little bit more open to what opera can be, the format that it can be presented in and how it can change in the future.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.