Opera And Technology Explored In Tapestry Opera/OCAD Collaboration ‘RUR A Torrent Of Light’

RUR A torrent of light in rehearsal (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

Tapestry Opera and OCAD University, Canada’s largest art, media and design university, have partnered for an innovative opera experience enhanced by smart technology. The world premiere of RUR A torrent of light will be presented in the Great Hall of OCAD from May 24 to June 5, 2022.

The production will mix dance, music from a 100-piece chamber orchestra, projections and other multimedia design elements, and of course opera, based on a Czech play from the 1920s.

About the game

RUR stands for Rossumovi Univerzalni Roboti or Rossum’s universal robots, a science fiction play by Czech writer Karel Čapek. The work, published in 1920 and premiered in 1921, is credited with introducing the word “robot” into the popular lexicon.

A huge hit in its time, the play has been translated into 30 languages ​​and has become hugely influential. Essentially, it’s a play about robots (or androids, as we now call artificial people), rising up against their human masters.

RUR A Torrent of Light takes the premise and gives it a feminist lens. It moves a bit towards a near future where AI is even more inextricably linked to modern life.

The new work was written by the Governor General’s Award winner Nicolas Billonand composed by Nicole Lizee in his first feature opera. Performances are led by Tapestry’s award-winning Artistic and General Director Michael Hidetoshi Mori. Wearable technology designed by OCAD’s Social Body Lab enhances the story and the experience.

About the cast:

  • Mezzo-soprano Kristina Szabo stars like Helena, a coder and level designer Steve Wozniak;
  • Newfoundland baritone Pierre Barrett stars as Helena’s husband and business partner, Dom;
  • Countertenor Scott Belluz rooms [Alex]Helena and Dom’s prototype personal assistance robot in human form;
  • Soprano Danielle BuonaiutoCanadian-American baritone Micah Schroederand Canadian mezzo-soprano Alex Hetherington are presented as AI-enabled robots in human form;
  • Soprano Maeva Palmer and Anne-Marie Ramosmezzo-soprano Jennifer Routhierand dance artists Sofi Gudino, Katherine Semchuk, Emily Spear and Brayden Jamil Cairns form the robot’s chorus.

Creative team includes music director and conductor appointed by Dora Gregory Oh as musical director and award-winning choreographer Jaime Martino.

Dr Adam Tindale of OCAD University's Social Body Lab, demonstrating a cello bow that produces sounds when it glides over any surface (Photo: Martin Iskander)
Dr Adam Tindale of OCAD University’s Social Body Lab, demonstrating a cello bow that produces sounds when it glides over any surface (Photo: Martin Iskander)

What is wearable technology?

Tapestry Opera traveled to OCAD University’s Social Body Lab to develop technology that singers and dancers could wear that would also relate to performance. The Social Body’s Lab has a mandate to explore the relationship between humans and technology; it seems like the perfect fit.

Associate Professor Digital Futures Dr. Adam Tindale, drummer with a master’s degree in music technology from McGill University and an interdisciplinary doctorate. in music, computer science and electrical engineering from the University of Victoria worked on the project.

“They were looking for unusual people to collaborate with,” notes Dr. Tindale. “I was invited to one of the first meetings.”

What he saw at first was a bit of music and a sketch of the scene, “and a lot of excitement.” That was enough to implicate him. The full score came later in the process. “Originally, I was classically trained in percussion,” he notes. “It was my first cycle.”

Tindale and his team worked on around 30 pieces of wearable technology. “There are a few different technologies that we’ve been developing in the Social Body Lab,” he says, noting that development has been ongoing for the better part of a year.

What will the audience experience be?

“You get all these lighting signals that come from a light fixture above,” he explains. “What we’ve been working with, with Tapestry, is integrating lights with artists.” This will include both lighting and color. “Instead of lights shining on the performers, lights will emanate from the performers.”

There are some inherent challenges with the space in OCAD’s Great Hall, and a lot of preparation to make sure it works well.

“It was complicated, but a lot of fun,” says Dr. Tindale. “There will also be built-in speakers in some of the performers,” he says. This includes dancers. “When they move, it will animate the sound.”

Dr Tindale says working with Tapestry, including discussions with Artistic and General Director Michael Mori about the nature of opera, has been inspirational. He points out that the new production only continues the opera’s tradition of being at the forefront of stage design and spectacle.

“We’re not introducing any new technology,” he says, “but putting it on a dancer in the middle of an opera gives him a different set of expectations.”

While Karel Čapek’s original story is somewhat of a cautionary tale (spoiler alert: humans lose), the new collaborative production takes on the perspective of the robot, subverting the moral. “It’s a great story,” he said.

He is also impressed with the score. “You might like Nicole Lizée,” he adds. The score is composed for four percussionists, two basses and two cellos. “It’s a bit like a double rock quartet playing opera. The performers are all virtuosos,” he describes. “There will also be live electronic sounds. The lighting design is going to be amazing.

The show also features modern dance, and may interest tech enthusiasts just for the magic of the stage. Delivered outside of the usual opera house atmosphere, the creators hope the production will deliver an innovative overall note.

“We’re really thrilled,” says Dr. Tindale.

Tickets are on sale now here.

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