Image: From left to right, opera cast member, Danielle Buonaiuto, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts & Science Dr. Adam Tindale and the production's Director and Artistic Director of Tapestry Opera Michael Hidetoshi Mori. Photo by Martin Iskander.
New sci-fi opera will be performed at OCAD University this spring
Last Wednesday, OCAD U’s Great Hall at 100 McCaul St. was filled with all manner of sound making objects. Drum kits, gongs, chimes, typewriters and most exceptionally, a cello bow that produces bird sounds when glided across any surface were being played while musicians, dancers and opera singers moved among them.
All were abuzz preparing for Tapestry Opera’s new production, R.U.R. A Torrent of Light, which will be presented this spring in collaboration with OCAD University.
An immersive, site-specific experience, the new chamber opera explores humanity’s relationship to technology. Inspired by Karel Čapek’s 1920s science-fiction play Rossum’s Universal Robots, this latest version is set 20 years in the future when artificial intelligence (AI) has become fully sewn into our everyday lives and is set in the offices of a fictional tech company.
Čapek’s original script brought the word robot into the English language and begins in a factory that manufactures artificial people. Eventually these entities revolt and render humanity extinct.
The innovative adaptation will be a unique addition to Tapestry Opera’s more than 40-year history of producing operatic stage performances. It is the only company in the country dedicated solely to the creation and performance of original Canadian opera.
OCAD U's Social Body Lab, whose mandate is to question the relationship between humans and technology, is helping to bring Tapestry's vision of the not-so-distant future to the stage. Director of the Lab and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts & Science, Kate Hartman, along with Digital Futures Associate Professors Nick Puckett and Dr. Adam Tindale have developed wearable technology prototypes that will be integrated into the performers’ costumes. They have collaborated closely with the opera’s creative team to embrace the possibilities innovative technologies can bring to live performance.
"This collaboration with Tapestry Opera has been incredibly unique and productive. Working in dialogue with their designers has enabled us to translate their ideas into cutting edge technological objects that we would have never arrived at individually,” notes Professor Puckett.
The uncanny bow that was being tested last week is one of the futuristic devices that will be featured in the performance and is the invention of Dr. Tindale, who is himself a classically trained musician. He has also developed a set of wearable speakers for R.U.R. A Torrent of Light that when donned by the dancers will allow sound to travel across the stage in step with their choreography.
Hartman and Puckett, along with the production’s costume, light and sound designers, have developed an LED-based prototype that will be worn around the necks of the actors who play robots and will be activated using WIFI. These collar pieces will function as visual indicators to the audience of various plot points, including the moments when the robots receive software updates.
“Despite current stereotypes, opera was historically a launchpad for all kinds of applied design technologies. Having the opportunity to collaborate with OCAD U faculty is an invigorating way to reconnect to that tradition and foster connections between art, music and design,” comments the production’s Director Michael Hidetoshi Mori, who is also Tapestry Opera’s Artistic Director.
“New music and theatre are perfect canvases for iterative experimentation. We look forward to the unique fruits of this collaboration and future ones,” he continues.
Composed by world-renowned composer Nicole Lizée with libretto by Governor General award-winning writer Nicolas Billon, R.U.R. A Torrent of Light will be performed from May 25 to June 5, 2022 at OCAD U's Great Hall.
Tickets go on sale later this month. Check Tapestry’s website for more details.