Remixing Verdi: Elspeth Brooke on creating her immersive 'Va pensiero' installation
The composer on using opera fan recordings from around the world to create a fresh take on a classic chorus.
Japan, Australia, Russia and Ecuador – It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of ‘Va pensiero’ that so many of you from across the globe heeded our call earlier this year in the run up to Royal Opera LIVE and submitted performances of the famous chorus from Verdi’s Nabucco.
As well as creating an inspiring video for the day of live-streaming, the vision was to create a unique immersive experience for this year’s Stephen Fry-curated Deloitte Ignite festival. That’s where I come in, using some of the submissions, as well as additional recordings featuring the Youth Opera Company and Thurrock Community Chorus and ambient sounds to create something unique.
Especially interesting were the performances in outdoor settings such as the Imperial Gardens in Kyoto. Each has a unique ambience but one of my favourites is from YouTube sensation Maestro Wenarto in Seattle who performed his extract with a karaoke backing!
During the process I came to the opening night of Nabucco at Covent Garden where Sound Engineer Francis Gardner and I made ambient recordings of the pre-performance buzz in the foyer and I hope that these sounds give the sense of excitement that a new production brings with it. The piece features recordings of opening night ticket holders. I was lucky enough to speak to one audience member, Vania Barbara, who grew up in Italy and shared her personal stories about ‘Va pensiero’. I recorded her speaking about the significance of the chorus to Italians, as well as Verdi’s life, and these recollections are now weaved throughout the piece.
The piece is mixed in quadraphonic surround sound which should make for a great experience with some interesting interplay between recordings made at different speeds - I was able to create some interesting blurred harmonies with several choirs singing the same section coming from different speakers at different speeds.
One of the technical challenges was working with recordings of different qualities and volumes. This became a way of creating variation of texture in the piece, for example combining a full-sounding five-microphone recording of a choir with a compressed and slightly crackly YouTube recording.
During Deloitte Ignite the installation will be showcased in the magnificent space of the Crush Room, with its red plush furniture and chandeliers that make it feel like an extension of the main auditorium. Listeners can move around to experience the installation from different angles.
It’s been fantastic have the opportunity to meet and work with so many people creating this installation and I hope that audiences enjoy the experience of hearing a classic opera chorus in a new and refreshing way.
Listen to an extract from the installation (mixed for stereo instead of quadrophonic sound):
Experience Elspeth’s Brooke’s ‘Va pensiero’ installation in the Crush Room at Stephen Fry’s Deloitte Ignite on 8 and 22 September 2013.