An Experimental Opera Film

The Bienen School’s spring 2020 opera, Monteverdi's L’Orfeo, will proceed as an original online film project. Both instrumentalists and singers will record audio and video via the internet, guided by director Joachim Schamberger and conductor Stephen Alltop. All content will be filmed and recorded in locations all over the country, where students can maintain social distancing. It is an enormously collaborative effort and the culmination will be an experimental opera film entitled Orfeo Remote.

Often considered the first great opera, L’Orfeo retells the story of legendary musician and poet Orpheus's journey to the underworld to rescue his love Eurydice.

Interviews

Director Joachim Schamberger

Can you tell us about the technology you are using to put together Orfeo Remote?

Producing an online opera film requires several essential programs. Most fundamentally, the students will be using personal computers, tablets, smartphones, and quality microphones to capture sound and video.  All materials are then gathered and shared in the cloud for various stages of editing.  Ultimately the film will be completed using Final Cut Pro and combined with the final audio edit (executed by Prof. Alltop). This ambitious project requires enormous planning and clarity. As far as I am aware, we may be the first to attempt to produce a complete opera with orchestra as a remote film. Northwestern has been extremely resourceful in providing the essential funding necessary to ensure the highest-level production.

What's been your biggest challenge with this project so far?

The biggest challenge is the overall logistics and coordination. All performers not only have to sing and act, they now must become recording engineers and filmmakers. And all of this happens via Zoom. We discuss character and interpretation as well as decide shot types, framing, timing, and, most importantly, screen direction. Since each student films independently, we need to determine in detail everyone’s “position” so the final edit appears seamless. While this is all very complicated, it also provides a wonderful learning opportunity. Acquiring basic fluency in video and audio production will be increasingly essential for musicians.

How is Monteverdi's Orfeo still relevant to our world and human experience?

Orfeo is a story about loss, fear, and taking initiative. In this regard it reflects our current experience in society, and for artists in particular. The temporary suspension of the arts in performance is an enormous loss, and fear of how it may come back is in the minds of the entire artistic community. Here we tell the story of Orfeo through the lens of an unemployed musician who takes initiative during a pandemic. She reaches out to colleagues to create an online Orfeo project. In this way we explore our own experience through the power of myth, story, and music.

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Conductor Stephen Alltop

What’s your process/plan thus far when it comes to musical preparation (i.e. group music rehearsals, virtual sectionals, language work, etc.)?

There are about four main phases to the completion of Orfeo Remote from the musical side:  

1) To start, I have recorded every note and line of the opera at home on my harpsichord and chamber organ (and occasionally a tambourine!). These recordings provide accompaniments for Zoom coachings, and reference recordings for performers to listen to in recording their music. I am coaching everyone in the cast via Zoom - it's actually working quite well! Alessandra Visconti has created audio files of the Italian diction for choruses. Alan Darling and others are also coaching singers.  

2) We are now at the stage of adding some vocal and instrumental lines that will assist performers in making their final recordings - I call these "enhanced" reference recordings. I am also making videos that show me conducting to these recordings to communicate inflections and releases (such videos are made into Youtube links that I send to performers). Assistant Conductor Victor Huls and Chorus Master Andrew Major will make at least one conducting video each, and are providing wonderful assistance for the project.

3) Using the "enhanced" reference recordings and conducting videos, all performers will record their lines and submit them to the various accounts we have organized to receive them. 

4) As the individual recordings come in, I will be assembling the final composite audio recordings that Joachim Schamberger will use as the "soundtrack" to Orfeo Remote. The goal, however difficult it may be to achieve, is to render a final musical product that belies that we were all separated as we created it.

What’s been your biggest challenge with this project so far?

The biggest challenges are time and technology! Enormous time issues because the project will require over 1,000 audio recordings generated by myself and the performers, to say nothing of all the videos for the filming. It's rather daunting to manage while also teaching six classes online. As for technology, I would have never dreamed around March 15 all I would have to learn before and during our Spring Quarter. Joachim, who is a tech whiz, has been so helpful, as have many other people. My wife Josefien Stoppelenburg has already edited more videos than I can count. I'm a conductor, but this "stay at home" time has forced me to translate the manipulation of sound on the podium into sound in recordings. As I start to hear glimpses of what the finished product will be like, it's pretty much as exciting as if we were actually together!

Please tell us a few of your favorite things about Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo.

It is amazing to consider that this "fable in music," as Monteverdi called it, is 413 years old but as relatable now as it would have been to the audiences of 1607. The variety of music is staggering, in both sonorities and emotions. From the loftiest joy to the deepest grief, it is all there in both glorious sound and timeless words. 

I also love that for our vocal and instrumental students, working on this project and this opera is an educational goldmine. They will learn so much that will stay with them their entire lives.

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Kandise Le Blanc / La Musica

Tell us about your role in this opera.

I'm performing La Musica in Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. La Musica is the first character the audience meets in the opera. She sets the exposition for the story of Orfeo and Eurydice in the prologue. La Musica is larger than life and the personification of music. Her storytelling uses great hyperboles and contrasts to captivate the audience with the plot that is about to unfold.

What's your favorite aspect of the project so far?

My favorite aspect of the project so far is learning how to balance being a director, cinematographer, and actress all at the same time. Throughout the filming process, I'm contemplating Where should the camera go? What items should be in the frame? When is the best time to film?. In addition to my Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance/Opera, I'm also pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing with an emphasis in mixed media. I love discovering how film, music, and text can illustrate aspects of a shared human experience. I'm incredibly grateful for Professor Schamberger's expertise and guidance throughout this experimental process.

How is this different interpretive medium influencing the way you shape your character, both musically and theatrically?

Acting for the screen is very different from staged theater. The biggest difference is the distance between myself and the audience. In Cahn Auditorium, the stage is far away from the audience. In order to convey the grandiose nature of La Musica, I would need to exaggerate my gestures and facial expressions so every audience member could see what’s going on. However, in Orfeo Remote, I can get extremely close to the camera and close the gap between the audience and me. This digital production supports subtle music inflections because I don't need to worry about projecting past an orchestra 10 feet in front of me. Because of the close-up nature of this interpretive medium, I'm exploring the coy aspects of La Musica's personality through natural and controlled gestures.

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Nicholas Lin / Orfeo

Tell us about your role in this opera.

I play Orfeo, son of Apollo and a muse, demigod of music, and lover of Eurydice. Much of the story follows my journey into Tartarus as I fight to retrieve the soul of my beloved Eurydice from Plutone, the king of the underworld. I, along with my other cast-mates, also occasionally play the role of director, recording artist, lightning technician, camera operator, key grip, assistant to key grip, and much more while recording various scenes at home.  

What's your favorite aspect of the project so far?

Orfeo Remote has become a project that excites me creatively and makes me feel connected to my Northwestern peers in a new way. During Zoom rehearsals, I am inspired by my cast-mates' ingenuity, determination, sense of humor, and emotional sensitivity. Since almost all of the singers-turned-filmmakers are out of their element, there is a real sense of vulnerability among us. We are creating art in a new, “remote” way, and so we must overcome unprecedented obstacles. In dealing with these obstacles, I feel proud when a fellow student hurdles a barrier, regardless of size, because they represent a shared hope for the future of opera and music theatre's artistic impact, even if the platform must evolve.  

How is this different interpretive medium influencing the way you shape your character, both musically and theatrically?

I think that many aspects of my interpretation have remained the same. On stage and on camera, Orfeo has the same musical material and stage directions. If anything, performing outside of a theatre has only shown me different colors of myself that would be perfectly applicable to the stage. However, I do think we have a new amount of control over the kind of tone we want to inject into the production. Because all of us are filming in separate locations, with different lighting, and different weather situations, it is difficult to seamlessly create the illusion that we are all in the same place. Therefore, the way that we decide to film ourselves, with different props, lighting, and locations, adds a lot of character to the movie mosaic. Just today, I drew inspiration from the Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder” and submitted my extra-narrative, extra-musical idea to Professor Schamberger. When you have a budget and limited time to rehearse and a fully blocked show it is hard for an actor to go on such a crazy tangent outside the director's vision.  

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Artists

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Joachim Schamberger

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Joachim Schamberger has gained great acclaim as an international stage director and video designer. His productions have appeared in the United States, Germany, Italy, France, Czech Republic, Brazil, Norway, Israel, Japan and China. In addition to directing and designing, Schamberger is an avid opera educator. He is on the faculty at many young artist festivals and guest lectures at conservatories throughout the world. He most recently served as visiting professor of opera at DePauw University from 2011-2017. Schamberger’s expertise includes vocal and dramatic interpretation as well as style and language coaching.

A native of Germany, Schamberger is a graduate of the Musikhochschule in Würzburg, the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Mannheim, and the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera. He studied digital film production and 3-D animation at the New York Film Academy.

For more information, visit his website.

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Stephen Alltop

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A conductor, harpsichordist, and organist, Stephen Alltop is director of music for Alice Millar Chapel, conductor of the Baroque Music Ensemble, and an instructor in conducting, harpsichord, and oratorio. A specialist in oratorio performance, he has conducted over 100 oratorio and operatic masterworks. He also serves as music director for the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, the Green Lake Choral Institute, and the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra. Under his direction, the Apollo Chorus has expanded its collaborations to include appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Opera Theater, London Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia Festival, Peninsula Music Festival, Josh Groban on Tour,  and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

In 2012, he was named Conductor of the Year by the Illinois Council of Orchestras for his work with the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra has received multiple awards for excellence in programming. He has also been named to Northwestern’s Faculty Honor Roll. Dr. Alltop became the music director and conductor of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra commencing with the 2013-14 season. He has guest-conducted numerous choruses and orchestras across the United States. He has led opera and orchestral concerts with a number of Italian orchestras, including I Soloisti di Perugia, Fondazione Arturo Toscanini (Bologna), Teatro Reggio Orchestra (Parma), Festival Mozart (Roverto), Orchestra Sinfonica della Provincia di Bari, Teatro Piccinni (Bari), and the Festival Duni (Matera). In February 2013, he was a guest conductor for the International School Choral Music Society in Busan, South Korea.

Dr. Alltop has worked closely with leading composers of the day, including residency projects with John Corigliano, Eleanor Daley, Stephen Paulus, and Eric Whitacre. He has conducted world premieres of works by John Luther Adams, Jan Bach, Frank Ferko, Stephen Paulus, Alan Terricciano, Janika Vandervelde, and many others. In 2007, he made his Carnegie Hall debut conducting music of Eric Whitacre.

An active musician in historic performance practices, Stephen Alltop has performed with many of today’s outstanding early music musicians, including Julianne Baird, Elizabeth Blumenstock, David Douglass, Ellen Hargis, Ingrid Matthews, Kenneth Slowik and Ton Koopman. He has performed as a harpsichordist and organist with Boston's Handel and Haydn Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Bach Project, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Music of the Baroque, and the Omaha Symphony. Dr. Alltop has served as principal organist for Soli Deo Gloria’s Chicago Bach Project. In 2011, he was principal organist performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris and conductor John Nelson at the Basilique St. Denis in France. As conductor of the Annual Celebration of Celtic Music at Chicago’s Symphony Center, he has worked with distinguished television and stage performers such as Brian Dennehy, Bill Kurtis, John Mahoney, and Martin Sheen. Dr. Alltop served as coordinator for WFMT's Chicago Bach Organ Project, a live performance series of all of Johann Sebastian Bach's organ works. His performances have been broadcast on Medici TV, RAI Italian Radio and Television, and the WFMT Fine Arts Network. His recordings can be found on the Albany, Cedille, Clarion, and American Gramaphone labels.

In demand as a speaker about music, Dr. Alltop lectures frequently for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Northwestern University Alumnae Continuing Education Series, and other musical organizations. In 2014-15, he gave presentations on leadership for the Advanced Management program of the Kellogg School of Management. He is represented by Joanne Rile Artist Management.

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Dark Horse Consort

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The early music ensemble Dark Horse Consort is dedicated to unearthing the majestic late renaissance and early baroque repertoire for brass instruments. Inspired by the bronze horse statues in Venice’s famed St. Mark’s Basilica, the ensemble attempts to recreate the glorious sounds of composers such as Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Monteverdi and Heinrich Schütz. Dark Horse often expands to include vocalists and strings, which when combined recreates the rapturous kaleidoscope that was the sound of the early 17th century instrumental ensemble.

Joachim Schamberger

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Joachim Schamberger has gained great acclaim as an international stage director and video designer. His productions have appeared in the United States, Germany, Italy, France, Czech Republic, Brazil, Norway, Israel, Japan and China. In addition to directing and designing, Schamberger is an avid opera educator. He is on the faculty at many young artist festivals and guest lectures at conservatories throughout the world. He most recently served as visiting professor of opera at DePauw University from 2011-2017. Schamberger’s expertise includes vocal and dramatic interpretation as well as style and language coaching.

A native of Germany, Schamberger is a graduate of the Musikhochschule in Würzburg, the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Mannheim, and the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera. He studied digital film production and 3-D animation at the New York Film Academy.

For more information, visit his website.

Stephen Alltop

Close

A conductor, harpsichordist, and organist, Stephen Alltop is director of music for Alice Millar Chapel, conductor of the Baroque Music Ensemble, and an instructor in conducting, harpsichord, and oratorio. A specialist in oratorio performance, he has conducted over 100 oratorio and operatic masterworks. He also serves as music director for the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, the Green Lake Choral Institute, and the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra. Under his direction, the Apollo Chorus has expanded its collaborations to include appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Opera Theater, London Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia Festival, Peninsula Music Festival, Josh Groban on Tour,  and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

In 2012, he was named Conductor of the Year by the Illinois Council of Orchestras for his work with the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra has received multiple awards for excellence in programming. He has also been named to Northwestern’s Faculty Honor Roll. Dr. Alltop became the music director and conductor of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra commencing with the 2013-14 season. He has guest-conducted numerous choruses and orchestras across the United States. He has led opera and orchestral concerts with a number of Italian orchestras, including I Soloisti di Perugia, Fondazione Arturo Toscanini (Bologna), Teatro Reggio Orchestra (Parma), Festival Mozart (Roverto), Orchestra Sinfonica della Provincia di Bari, Teatro Piccinni (Bari), and the Festival Duni (Matera). In February 2013, he was a guest conductor for the International School Choral Music Society in Busan, South Korea.

Dr. Alltop has worked closely with leading composers of the day, including residency projects with John Corigliano, Eleanor Daley, Stephen Paulus, and Eric Whitacre. He has conducted world premieres of works by John Luther Adams, Jan Bach, Frank Ferko, Stephen Paulus, Alan Terricciano, Janika Vandervelde, and many others. In 2007, he made his Carnegie Hall debut conducting music of Eric Whitacre.

An active musician in historic performance practices, Stephen Alltop has performed with many of today’s outstanding early music musicians, including Julianne Baird, Elizabeth Blumenstock, David Douglass, Ellen Hargis, Ingrid Matthews, Kenneth Slowik and Ton Koopman. He has performed as a harpsichordist and organist with Boston's Handel and Haydn Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Bach Project, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Music of the Baroque, and the Omaha Symphony. Dr. Alltop has served as principal organist for Soli Deo Gloria’s Chicago Bach Project. In 2011, he was principal organist performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris and conductor John Nelson at the Basilique St. Denis in France. As conductor of the Annual Celebration of Celtic Music at Chicago’s Symphony Center, he has worked with distinguished television and stage performers such as Brian Dennehy, Bill Kurtis, John Mahoney, and Martin Sheen. Dr. Alltop served as coordinator for WFMT's Chicago Bach Organ Project, a live performance series of all of Johann Sebastian Bach's organ works. His performances have been broadcast on Medici TV, RAI Italian Radio and Television, and the WFMT Fine Arts Network. His recordings can be found on the Albany, Cedille, Clarion, and American Gramaphone labels.

In demand as a speaker about music, Dr. Alltop lectures frequently for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Northwestern University Alumnae Continuing Education Series, and other musical organizations. In 2014-15, he gave presentations on leadership for the Advanced Management program of the Kellogg School of Management. He is represented by Joanne Rile Artist Management.

Dark Horse Consort

Close

The early music ensemble Dark Horse Consort is dedicated to unearthing the majestic late renaissance and early baroque repertoire for brass instruments. Inspired by the bronze horse statues in Venice’s famed St. Mark’s Basilica, the ensemble attempts to recreate the glorious sounds of composers such as Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Monteverdi and Heinrich Schütz. Dark Horse often expands to include vocalists and strings, which when combined recreates the rapturous kaleidoscope that was the sound of the early 17th century instrumental ensemble.

Virtual Panel Discussion

Orfeo Virtual Panel Discussion

Friday, May 22, 2020 at 3:30pm CT

Participants:

Drew Davies, Moderator; Chair, Department of Music Studies, Bienen School of Music
Jeffrey Kurtzman, Professor of Musicology, Washington University, St. Louis
Linda Austern, Associate Professor of Musicology, Bienen School of Music
Jason Rosenholtz-Witt, PhD candidate, Musicology, Bienen School of Music
Joachim Schamberger, Director of Opera, Bienen School of Music (Director of Orfeo Remote)
Stephen Alltop, Conducting Faculty, Bienen School of Music (Conductor for Orfeo Remote)
Nicholas Lin, Voice & Opera Program Student, Bienen School of Music (Role of Orfeo in Orfeo Remote)

Learn more about these panelists

2020 Dunbar Festival

Orfeo Remote and related activities are supported by the Evelyn Dunbar Memorial Early Music Festival.

Founded in 1998 through the generous support of Ruth Dunbar Davee and her husband, Ken M. Davee, the Evelyn Dunbar Memorial Early Music Festival provides exceptional opportunities for performers to prepare important masterworks with the guidance of leading scholars. The festival’s purpose is to combine informed performance and scholarly inquiry through master classes, preconcert presentations, and lectures.