Virtual art has become the predominant form of expression and community during coronavirus, perhaps because it has the ability to connect audiences and creators alike: the audience sitting in their homes with a cup of coffee, and the creators either alone in a studio or sitting in their own living room. Online art brings connection and empathy to quarantine audiences around the world. Virtual art is human; it’s how we can stay tied to each other in these months of fear and uncertainty.
A beloved Seattle organization that recognizes the power in online performance is Seattle Opera: their website continues the Opera’s work through (sometimes) lonely screens, with performances that are updated weekly. The organization offers a host of ways to engage in opera during quarantine, and their Opera At Home programming is great for those who want to learn more about the medium.
As part of Seattle Opera's Opera At Home, the company features its singers online through frequent live streams and discussions. Last week, Seattle Opera held a live stream showcasing the powerful and moving voice of household name, Angel Blue. Blue was set to sing as Mimí in Seattle Opera’s May show La bohéme, but unsurprisingly, the show was canceled due to COVID-19.
During her recital, Blue sang a range of songs, including African spirituals and works by Rachmaninov, Heggie, Charpentier, and Verdi. Undoubtedly, Blue has a heavenly voice: she beautifully conveys the feelings and burdens of each song, sometimes expressing urgency with shrill and quick-paced singing, and other times expressing calm through slow and soft melodies. Songs like “Spring Waters” from 12 Romances and “Ride On, King Jesus,” a spiritual by Hall Johnson, showcased not only her range but her ability to create different atmospheres for each piece. Each song was a mini-story from the perspective of a new character.
On that note, Blue took on the task of performing from her home—usually, opera sets help audience members to step into the world of the characters, but this can become a challenge when your set is your own living room—proving that story comes from within. Even though she sang into her headphones to share art with us viewers and she was accompanied via Zoom call by Jay Rozendaal, she portrayed different characters and emotions flawlessly. Furthermore, listening to Blue’s voice was, for lack of a better word, magical. Her singing and facial expressions combined to create a candid, casual performance, so it did not feel like Angel Blue was performing to you, but like you were casually hearing the stories of several people’s lives.
Seeing opera online is very different from seeing it in person, but that isn’t a bad thing. I usually view in-person opera from far away, and the faces of singers aren’t visible to most audience members. But when online, audience members can see everything, which makes for a personal experience and further brings to life the characters and emotion of each piece. Eye contact is a scarce occurrence during social distancing, but seeing Blue look directly at the camera makes it feel like she is there in your kitchen with you. This time of social isolation has felt numbing, but listening to Angel Blue helped to release some of my loneliness and tune into human connection.
Near the end of our time together as audience and artist, Angel sang the song “Joy Alone” from the opera Natural Selection by Jake Heggie. The phrase strikes a chord in today’s world: though we’re physically alone, joy does not have to be lonely. "Songs of Summer" with Angel Blue proves that while alone, we can share our joy together, computer screen through computer screen.
Angel Blue performed on May 28, 2020, as part of the Seattle Opera's "Songs of Summer" series. For more information see here.