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Science and opera collide with Personal Opera project

A combined initiative between ROH and Massachusetts Institute of Technology has culminated in new, creative opera being made.

By Hannah Griffiths (Former Learning and Participation Manager (Opera))

20 August 2012 at 11.15am | 1 Comment

It was a big day for the ROH – not one, but 14 new operatic scenes premiered on Tuesday 24 July. These were the culmination of last season’s Personal Opera project.

Personal Opera is a collaborative research and development initiative between the ROH and the Media Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It seeks to answer two core questions: how do we empower people as creative participants to tell their own stories through opera? And what role can radically innovative technology play in that aim?

Over the past four months, we’ve been working with a small group of participants aged 65 and over, actively exploring how text works in opera and how opera conveys narrative and emotion.

Using a combination of “live” input from professional artists and innovative composition software, participants have, with great care and panache, crafted their own operatic episodes based on stories from their own lives. The stories that emerged were fascinating, taking us from war-torn villages in Africa to transatlantic crossings by boat; from extramarital affairs to happy-ever-after wedding days.

The Royal Opera House’s collaborators at MIT are Tod Machover, composer and Professor of Music and Media, and Peter Torpey, Research Assistant in the Opera of the Future group.

Peter’s research explores “the nexus of music, interface, interaction design, cognition, storytelling, and theatre”. These are mind-blowing concepts for an Opera Education Manager like myself, whose world has never before encompassed musical algorithms and graphical composition environments. Nevertheless, the combination of MIT’s pioneering, unorthodox approach to music technology and ROH’s commitment to engaging with adults as creative participants has proved very successful. This was abundantly clear, when we gathered at the Royal Academy of Music to hear an ensemble of six musicians realise our participants’ new compositions. Some pieces were haunting, while other were luscious; some glistened, while others had a huge sense of foreboding. What they had in common, however, was the power to evoke individuals’ personal memories and convey something of those experiences to the audience at large.

I can’t wait for the next phase of the project.

By Hannah Griffiths (Former Learning and Participation Manager (Opera))

20 August 2012 at 11.15am

This article has been categorised Learning, Opera and tagged composition software, Massachusettes Institute of Technology, MIT, opera, Royal Academy of Music, telling stories through opera

This article has 1 comment

  1. Dear Hannah,
    many thanks for posting about this more than exiting project. @WebWorkerDD (AKA Florian Vogelmaier, a great connector on social networks bringing news from Dresden out to the world) has made me aware via

    I'd be more than glad to connect further as I blog for the on - driven by the vision of bringing together arts, science, and technology in future fruitful way to all.

    Best regards from a boiling Dresden, having the last hot days of summer so it seems

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