Des Moines Metro Opera may have taken its 2020 season online, but with the help of technology, social media and the Iowa Public Broadcasting system, you can do a lot more than watch operas as the season kicks off Sunday, June 28.
You can have most of a full opera experience — including a themed dinner to go with the show.
“I’m viewing it as the same as having a festival,” said Michael Egel, general manager and artistic director for the company that has been staging opera in Indianola since 1973. “I enjoy the collective, communal experience of everyone coming together, but this is a really great alternative.”
Facebook has been a key tool in the reimagined season, said Egel. “I now know Facebook can do many more things that I was aware,” he said. The company is combining Facebook and You Tube, to build out a full festival experience.
“In the summertime, we have operas, we have free community events, talks, apprentice artist programs and performances for the public,” he said. “Our goal in creating the virtual festival is to build out that experience.”
The season actually started — as DMMO seasons usually do — with Death by Aria. Traditionally, every apprentice artist comes to Indianola with an aria that they sing for the entire company and guests.
“It’s one of our favorite events,” said Egel, so the company reimagined it.
“We had each record an introduction about themselves, and then it dovetails into an aria,” he explained. The arias were then sorted by the type of voice — mezzo soprano, soprano, tenors and basses, and streamed in four 40-minute or so concerts on Facebook where audiences could watch them live and interact. The performances are still available for viewers on Facebook.
“I didn’t know how effective and moving they would be,” admitted Egel.
The company also will have watch parties during the televised performance of the operas so audiences can exchange comments and thoughts. Viewers also can access additional content, including Maestro’s Musings, available on YouTube at 7 p.m. on the Wednesdays before the performance and featuring the conductor and orchestra’s views of the shows.
Director’s insights on each show are available on Thursdays at 7 p.m. before the performances and focus on pieces of the physical production. Audiences also can join in a chat with five cast members from each show via Facebook and You Tube every Friday night at 7 p.m.
Finally, the traditional opera prelude talk has been taken online and is offered 45 minutes before showtime on You Tube. Most of these options allow for the audience to be part of the conversation.
The mainstage shows will kick off on Sunday, June 28, with a 2 p.m. broadcast of “Manon.” It will be followed by a broadcast of “Bon Appetit!” — a 2nd-Stage performance of an opera focusing on Julia Child.
“It’s musical dessert after Manon,” said Egel. “It will be a very French day.”’
Viewers who want to have their dessert before dinner can get started at 2 p.m., Saturday, June 27, with an artist recital by “Bon Appetit” star Joyce Castle, which will be available on Facebook and You Tube.
And if cooking yourself isn’t your thing, you can even enjoy the traditional dinner before the opera.
Ordinarily, the Embassy Club in Des Moines provides a preshow dinner in the lobby of Blank Performing Arts Center at Simpson College, the traditional home of the opera. This year, Purveyer — a more carryout establishment — will offer a themed boxed dinner that people can pick up to enjoy before the Sunday performance. Diners will get the preassembled meal, as well as a DMMO tote and a copy of the virtual festival program. They can pick up their meals at Purveyor in the East Village or, for an extra fee, DMMO company members will deliver it.
None of the season would be possible without IPBS, Egel added, which recorded and broadcast the operas and has helped pull together the additional content for this season.
“A lot of performing arts organizations have no choice but to be dark and don’t have the Iowa PBS content,” said Egel. “They’re trying to create content in living rooms. We’re fortunate to have all this content.”
And it’s quality content, he added.
“It’s easy to assume when people say ‘it’s online’ that someone set up a Go-Pro in the back of the theatre and just pushed record,” he said. That’s far from the truth.
“These are Emmy awarded performances,” said Egel. “Cameras can really get into our unique theatre and capture our performances.”
Egel said he didn’t appreciate everything that IPBS was doing until now.
“They devote extremely skilled people, staff and extraordinary equipment,” he said. “I’ve tried to look for other companies that have such a strong affiliation to a PBS affiliate but don’t find it. We always knew it was special what they were doing for us, but we didn’t realize how special.”
Even more special this year, all of the content will be free. Performances will be broadcast on IPBN first, but then will be available online for people to watch at their convenience.
In addition to the television broadcasts, Iowa Public Radio will broadcast four additional DMMO performances on Saturday nights, including the 2017 performance of “Turandot,” the 2011 “Don Paquale,” the 2018 “Flight” and the 2012 “Eugene Onegin.”
It all will wrap up July 15 with the Stars of Tomorrow. Usually offered at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium, this year it will be online, said Egel, via Facebook and You Tube.
“It will feature members of the orchestra who have volunteered to step up to record instrumental music and some chorus and others will be singing from their homes,” said Egel.
All of it is making a season that is very different from what Egel had planned but is still a rich artistic experience. And a lot of work.
“I’ve found that doing the virtual festival is about twice as much work as the real festival, because we’re trying to learn new skills,” he said. “But it’s about half as much fun because you don’t have all the interaction.”
The virtual season begins Sunday with a televised production of “Manon,” followed on succeeding Sundays by “Russalka” “Billy Budd,” and “Le Comte Ory.”
All broadcasts begin at 2 p.m.