Alice in the Pandemic, a new virtual opera from activist opera company White Snake Projects, led by creator and librettist Cerise Jacobs, represents an ingenious adaptation to the changed performing arts environment. Renowned for its pioneering work with new technology onstage, the company has now characteristically reached out to a team of tech innovators around the country to develop a host of technology solutions for virtual presentations. Innovation made necessary by the pandemic is thus put in the service of a tale reflecting on it: an up-to-the-minute version of Lewis Carroll’s timeless story, which in this case follows the nurse Alice as she navigates her way through a distorted and unfamiliar landscape to find her sick mother. Alice in the Pandemic premieres in cyberspace on October 23–27, 2020.
The challenges of presenting Alice in the Pandemic online are legion, but central to them is the problem of latency. The three singers in their respective remote locations perform live to a simultaneously received accompaniment, but both that accompaniment and their performances to it are mediated by the internet and their own computers, thus creating inevitable time discrepancies in the data transfer. The first challenge is therefore to align the live broadcasts with each other and the music, a solution for which has been created by Kansas City composer and sound designer Jon Robertson. That aligned composite is then received by Virginia-based video engineer Andy Carluccio, whose StreamWeaver platform acts as a hub for all the different data streams and has made it possible for the three live singers to all broadcast in HD.
The video and CGI component of the opera comes from Director of Innovation Curvin Huber, and this has its own set of challenges. Because the singing is live and the avatars need to sing along, so to speak, Huber needs real-time data about the singers’ facial movements. Carluccio has created software to accomplish that feat as well: it extracts from the video feeds separate data streams to motivate the avatars. An assemblage of all the elements finally goes to Projections and Lighting Designer Jeanette Yew, who in essence stage-manages the finished livestream. Reflecting on this enormously complex and ambitious undertaking, Jacobs says:
“As a small company we don’t have the resources to move productions outside, for example. On the other hand, we’ve been able to invest heavily in technology with our partners and to experiment with it in a way that bigger companies generally won’t risk doing, so we decided our task now was to double down on that and create a show that is the culmination of our history of looking at tech in a different way.”
Music Director Tian Hui Ng leads the cast of three principal singers: soprano Carami Hilaire as Alice, countertenor Daniel Moody as the White Rabbit, and mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti as Alice’s mother and a number of other characters. The prerecorded accompaniment consists of strings, electronics, and the VOICES Boston children’s choir, led by Artistic Director Daniel P. Ryan.
The creative team for Alice in the Pandemic also includes two recent collaborators: composer Jorge Sosa and director Elena Araoz both collaborated on White Snake Projects’ 2019 production I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams. I Care If You Listen praised Araoz’s “insightful directorial touch” and Sosa’s score as “well-balanced to the story’s narrative,” noting that the work contained “strong emotional peaks and valleys, magnified by the characters’ impassioned performances.” The Boston Globe elaborated that Dreamer “might be White Snake’s least logistically complex affair to date. It’s also the best.” Sosa’s eclectic style is a natural fit for the topsy-turvy story of Alice in the Pandemic; ICON magazine even unwittingly foreshadowed the opera when it described his work as “not music to accompany afternoon tea with Mom; it’s more along the lines of sending your consciousness on the Cosmic Turnpike where the exit ramps are never permanent. Eerie, haunting, dreamlike, at times nightmarish – and highly recommended.”
White Snake Projects brings diverse, timely, and relevant opera, based on original stories by Cerise Lim Jacobs, to the main stages of Boston and computer screens around the world. Like the legendary White Snake demon, which became human in order to live more intensely, White Snake Projects transform present-day experience into passionate new American-made opera. The company believes there is no better way to bridge the chasms of race, national origin, and gender than through a reimagined art form combining music with cutting-edge technology, theater, and dance. This ambitious project kicked off in September 2016 with Ouroboros Trilogy, a trio of grand operas including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Madame White Snake, and continued with REV. 23 (2017), PermaDeath (2018) and I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams (2019).
Cerise Jacobs: Alice in the Pandemic world premiere
Oct 23–27, 2020
Online on digital platforms
Alice: Caramie Hilaire, soprano
Mother and related characters: Eve Gigliotti, mezzo-soprano
White Rabbit: Daniel Moody, countertenor
VOICES Boston, Daniel P. Ryan, Artistic Director
Composer: Jorge Sosa
Creator and Librettist: Cerise Lim Jacobs
Director: Elena Araoz
Music Director: Tian Hui Ng
Director of Innovation: Curvin Huber
Projections and Lighting Designer: Jeanette Yew
Audio Engineer: Jon Robertson
Video Engineer: Andy Carluccio
Director of CGI: Pirate Epstein
Producer: Rachel Sturm
Executive Producer: White Snake Projects