A two-year long challenge to art and technology has finally and completely presented itself to the world. Last July, in the Finnish city of Savonlinna, the first ever online-created opera, “Free Will”, premiered in front of an enthusiastic audience of over 2200 people.
It was late spring 2010 when a quite peculiar ad started to appear in newspapers and even more widely on the Internet: “We have an 80 vocalist choir, but no script. We have a cast and a castle, but no wardrobe and no set design. We have a symphony orchestra, but no composition. Come create an opera.”. Behind all this was the Savonlinna Opera Festival, one of the main European operatic festivals, with an idea both simple and frighteningly huge at once: bringing to a union the world of Opera, one of the main classical institutions of western culture, and the new frontier of technology and communication, aka the Internet. In particular, the project intended to base its foundation on one of the most recent Internet creation methods, “crowdsourcing”, or in other words the process of soliciting contributions from a large number of people in developing a pre-given work. An Opera, in this case. Hundreds of people from all over the world joined the project almost at once, using the platform set by the Festival’s operatives on the website wreckamovie.com. The excited response was gathered and organized by the operatives (professionals in writing, composing, directing, designing..), who led the work of the participants by judging and selecting the flow of material.
After the plot for the opera had been chosen by the members of the participants’ community among various proposals, the train journeyed towards the July 2012 premiere, when the Savonlinna Opera Festival was going to celebrate its 100 year anniversary. What followed were months and months of effort, of ideas being enthusiastically accepted and ideas being necessarily rejected, of collective brainstorming and individual dreaming, as the work of the various teams got more specific and articulate. As soon as the size and scope of the project became clear, the work of the project’s community started to coagulate around a more restricted number of members who followed the creative process to its very end. The core of the opera – the libretto and the music score – were completed respectively between the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. During spring 2012, as composition operative Markus Fagerudd was working to convert the newly created music score into a fully orchestrated one, and as the singers, cast from all over the world, were gathering in Savonlinna to start the rehearsals, five members of the community were selected due to their activeness and awarded with free trips to the premiere.
The project had yet to achieve its goal to exploit all the potential of the world wide web, though, and so the final phase of the work began: all the rehearsals were filmed and streamed live on the ustream.tv platform, in order to give the creators the chance to witness how the opera was coming to life and to send in their opinions.
July, finally arrived, and two years of work and hopes were put to a test. Orchestra director Sasha Mäkilä conducted the opera amongst the walls of the amazing and acoustically perfect setting of Olavinlinna (Saint Olaf’s castle), and as the final chorale came to an end the audience generously displayed its appreciation, putting a seal of achievement on the goals of the Opera By You project.
A historical precedent has certainly been set, both in opera and internet history. The future will tell what this experience will lead to – as to right now a conclusion can be stated: far from being a sour celebration of “do-it-yourself” and amateurism, the Opera By You project has shown how easily, nowadays, talent can be gathered from around the world and brought to express itself if only given a chance. And that chance can be just a mouse-click away.
Enrico De Zottishappy wheels