Lots of things are being cancelled as COVID-19 and the coronavirus it causes sweep across the state. One thing won’t stop, said Michael Egel, director of the Des Moines Metro Opera, housed in Indianola.
“At this time, more than ever, the world needs music,” said Egel. “The world needs what music can do. At a time when we’re distancing ourselves from one another, music can still bring us together. So it’s important we find any way we can to keep going.”
So when Governor Kim Reynolds ordered Iowa schools to close through April 13, putting an effective end to the annual OPERA Iowa tour, DMMO started looking for ways to share its music.
OPERA Iowa, housed within DMMO in Indianola, is Iowa’s largest and most expansive program in arts education, says its web site. The 12-week program provides comprehensive study guides and curriculum-based workshops for schools, along with masterclasses and live musical performances designed specifically for young people and families.
The eight-member OPERA Iowa troupe was slated to perform its one-act children’s opera, “Little Red’s Most Unusual Day” almost 40 times over the next six weeks in communities stretching from Pocahontas to Sioux City and Indianola. They also were scheduled to perform “The Magic Flute” 13 times, including in Indianola.
The opera also cancelled seven community aria concerts for chapters of the Opera Guild.
With those performances cancelled, the troupe spent Tuesday recording a performance of “Little Red” and Wednesday recording the arias that would been part of the aria concerts.
“We can't make all of the school visits that we thought we were going to make and the community concerts that we thought we were going to be able to do,” Egel said. “We’re making sure that we can provide content to the schools during this time when they need resources and they need online content to provide any way.
“We can kind of be a voice in the community to continue the music even while we're all practicing social distancing,” he said.
The company is still working through how it will distribute the content, said Scott Arens, director of marketing and public relations. They likely will provide links to an online stream of the performances for the Guilds and possibly for schools. They also are offering schools the chance to move their bookings from this school year to next year, added Egel.
But figuring out how to distribute the content wasn’t the priority this week. Getting it recorded was.
“We want to make sure we capture the performance before the singers disperse,” Egel said.
Most of the singers come from outside Iowa and had planned to be in Indianola through the end of April. But with the end of the tour, many are choosing to return to homes around the country. They’ll go with paychecks for the entire season, said Egel.
“We are honoring our financial obligations to them,” he said. “We believe that that’s the ethical and right thing to do. Without artists, we’re nothing.”
Tuesday and Wednesday’s filming gave the artists some closure, said Egel.
“It’s important for the singers to have that one last performance together to express themselves through what they’re doing,” he said. “It’s an important punctuation mark we wouldn’t want to leave dangling.”
The company also is laying contingency plans for its full season, which usually sees hundreds of singers, orchestra members and technical staff flood Indianola over the summer. Creative teams are moving full steam ahead, working remotely on sets and costumes, which is normal, and many of the 10 full-time staff housed at the Lauridson Opera Center in Indianola also are now working remotely, which isn’t normal.
“Our goal is to remain nimble and to be able to react quickly while fulfilling our promises to ticket buyers and donors, and also working within the guidelines of good public health,” said Egel.
The performances, both by OPERA Iowa, and the full company, are especially important in a time of turmoil, he said.
“Communities are clearly anxious and nervous about what the future holds,” he said, adding that it’s important that people are “able to hear music, to know that people still care about what music is, what it means to people, what it can do for communities, especially in times of turmoil.”