On October 23–27, activist opera company White Snake Projects presents the world premiere of Alice in the Pandemic, a new virtual opera composed by Jorge Sosa. Led by creator and librettist Cerise Jacobs, the company has managed not only to quickly and ingeniously adapt to the changed performing arts environment, postponing until spring the originally slated premiere of composer Elena Ruehr’s poli-sci-fi opera Cosmic Cowboy, but even to surpass its own reputation for cutting-edge innovation. The result is an up-to-the-minute version of Lewis Carroll’s timeless story, in which Alice is now a nurse who must navigate her way through a distorted and unfamiliar landscape to find her sick mother and, ultimately, herself.
Early in the pandemic, when White Snake Projects pivoted to mount an online production of its community song laboratory Sing Out Strong: DeColonized Voices, the Boston Musical Intelligencer praised the performance as “a profound and topical song recital,” declaring that the “hybrid, multimedia experiment succeeded” and that White Snake Projects had “set a new standard for online concerts in the age of pandemic.” That success – also accomplished through the goodwill and talents of a host of collaborators, despite a near-impossible deadline – helped inspire Alice in the Pandemic, with which Jacobs and White Snake Projects once again point the way forward.
As Jacobs says of the new production:
“We’ve spent a lot of time since lockdown thinking about how to re-create a robust online opera experience that will excite audiences the way our in-person shows have: from high production values and technical innovations to relevant stories and the camaraderie of sharing. Also, the risk! Part of the thrill of live performance is the fact that the artists and the production team are taking risks in real time, with no ability to edit or ‘do over’ missteps. Live performance tests the abilities and artistry of the team and their belief that we can create beauty fearlessly, in the moment. Alice in the Pandemic is a grand experiment to deliver all of the above, and more.”
Composer Jorge Sosa and director Elena Araoz were both collaborators 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 found Sosa’s score to be “well-balanced to the story’s narrative,” with “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.”
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 other characters, as well as the Victory Players string quartet, supplemented by electronics. The VOICES Boston children’s choir is led by Artistic Director Daniel P. Ryan. A video preview of the opera is available here.
Critical to the success of Alice in the Pandemic is new technology, which comes courtesy of a stellar team of tech innovators and inventors, comprising both relative newcomers to the White Snake Projects family and longtime collaborators. Kansas City composer and sound designer Jon Robertson has created a solution for the latency problems that plague digital performance, allowing the live broadcasts of physically separate performers to synchronize with each other and the musical accompaniment each is hearing. The aligned composite goes to a new audio and video enhanced platform, StreamWeaver, created by Virginia-based video engineer Andy Carluccio. StreamWeaver acts as a hub for all the different data streams and makes it possible for the three live singers to broadcast in HD simultaneously.
The 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, and Carluccio has created software to accomplish that feat as well. An assemblage of all the elements finally goes to Projections and Lighting Designer Jeanette Yew, who in essence stage manages the finished livestream.
Ticket prices are based on a policy of pay what you can, with a suggested range from $25 to $145, as for last year’s world premiere of I Am A Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams. One ticket is meant to serve an entire household, and the Ticket Access Program (TAP) provides free tickets to anyone who needs one. Patrons who normally pay the highest ticket price are asked to do so again, circumstances permitting, in recognition of the hard work and financial investment that have made Alice in the Pandemic possible. Tickets are available here.
About White Snake Projects
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 transforms 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: Carami 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