Opera's Past, Present, and Future

Mirrorflores is unlike anything the Music Academy has ever presented: a cinematic opera event bringing to life beloved Baroque arias in a way only film can. Directed by James Darrah and featuring both the talented fellows of the Vocal Institute and the beauty that is the Academy’s Miraflores campus, Mirrorflores—a play on words that reflects past and present—is not to be missed. Be sure to get your digital ticket to this exciting event!

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Please enjoy this blog post on the filming process written by fellow Kaileigh Riess. This post created as part of Project Resonance, the Music Academy’s unique program combining writing training with public engagement. Through this initiative, both Academy fellows and young scholars from UC Santa Barbara are given the opportunity to work on program notes and other written materials for the Summer Festival.

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First day of opera rehearsal: Take out your thoroughly marked up, translated, well-worn score and sing through the music you’ve likely coached with your team for weeks. The musical lines are baked into your muscle memory, the plosive consonants calculated to the very last sixteenth note, the source material scoured for every possible dramatic beat. You sing the show beginning to end, and more likely than not, your preparation has—well—prepared you for exactly what transpires.

First day on film set: Show up. Play. See what happens.

Fellows Kaileigh Riess and Alma Neuhaus as “mirror-image twins” trapped in a “purgatory-like existence.”

The difference is not one of preparation (we’d rehearsed and prerecorded Mirrorflores’ dynamic baroque soundtrack and had discussions about character, interpretation, and some staging), but rather of control. In the very structured world of opera, adherence to style, accuracy, and ultimate command of the voice are paramount, and control serves as the framework through which the very best performers are able to find moments of freedom and spontaneity. Here though, with the singing already taken care of, performing for a camera allowed for freedom from the start. For many fellows, certainly for me, this more immediate freedom was a welcome breath of fresh air.

My scene partner and I were tasked with being mirror-image twins of one another. We were to find a brief escape from a purgatory-like existence (in the form of a 20’s garden party theatrical spectacular: the same show repeated ad nauseum as a means of torture and domination) and in our first moment alone discover one another for the first time, all to the tune of “Pur ti miro” from Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea. What would it be like to see your own reflection for the first time? How would it feel to play with your own shadow? To escape? To find a way to touch, and eventually embrace, in a (perhaps post-pandemic) world so devoid of human connection?

Like the opera singers we were trained to be, my diligent scene partner and I came to staging with many pre-planned ideas. Some of this work was necessary to get to the level of synchronicity we wanted to achieve in our twinned movements, but we soon found that the real magic lay in the in-between moments: the flickers of unplanned yet still synchronized impulses, the hypnotic repetition and sensation of possibility in multiple takes, the flush of excitement in feeling the camera’s gaze close to our faces. We concluded that even as the world of live theatre is gratefully returning, there’s something about this world of film we can’t abandon, having experienced it once.

This intimacy between camera and performer we experienced affords our beloved craft an exciting opportunity. With cinema, we have the ability to bring to opera—an artform arguably unmatched in its ability to combine the very best of so many other disciplines—one more mode of expression: one that is inherently more accessible to new audiences, one that continues to expand our capacity for human storytelling, one that propels us toward the future.

– Kaileigh Riess, Academy fellow, soprano


Mirrorflores is available online beginning at 5 pm Pacific Time on Saturday, August 14, and will be available to watch for 30 days. Watch the trailer below:

About the Writer

About the Writer