Why you shouldn’t miss the Tete a Tete opera festival

Reader's Digest Editors

A brief guide to some of the most exciting operas of the Tete a Tete festival 

The Tete a Tete opera festival is a visionary opera company dedicated to developing and promoting the art form in some of the most unique and innovative ways around. This year, they have undertaken the impossible task of combining a number of live as well as interactive broadcast performances of their productions.

We speak to the creators of some of these outstanding shows about the process of putting on live performances during a global pandemic, what makes them unique and what they can offer viewers in these unprecedented times.

The Bridge Between Breaths

Interactive Broadcast: 18:00-19:00, Tuesday, September 8, 2020 (can be watched back until October 6)

This one of a kind production concerns visibility and accessibility. Deaf and hearing audiences meet in the connected space between breaths, whilst a painter responds to the sounds with brushstrokes on canvas. This artmaking explores whether live visual art can make opera more accessible to deaf audiences. The show as a whole represents Tête à Tête’s particular effort over recent years to welcome more disabled artists, many of whom are collaborating with Tête à Tête this year in less overt ways.

We spoke to the singer, performer and musician Joanne Roughton-Arnold about ways in which her own visual impairment has affected her career in the opera industry.

“I refuse to be held back, so I started my own opera company to break down barriers both on and off stage. So now my visual impairment has put me at the helm of formidAbility, engaging a healthy mix of disabled and non-disabled professional artists, putting accessibility for our audiences at the heart of the creative process and challenging perceptions of disability and inclusion in the opera profession,” she says.

In terms of other opera companies championing diversity and inclusivity, Joanne’s vision isn’t exactly positive saying that the opera world is severely lagging behind other industries, which is why she created formidAbility in the first place. “Having said that, the Royal Opera House created a beautiful new opera for families called “The Lost Thing” last Christmas which included disabled performers, and Graeae are creating an exciting new chamber opera featuring disabled artists: The Paradis Files, she says.

Persephone’s Dream

Live Performance at The Cockpit Theatre: 20:45-21:15, Friday, September 18, 2020

Interactive Broadcast: 21:00-22:00, Tuesday, September 22

In Persephone's Dream, we discover the character of Persephone in Hades at the beginning of her time in the underworld. We follow her in her dream state, during which she oscillates between whether to wake up and re-join the surface world, or stay in hibernation.

Through the central figure of a biodegradable Persephone and a 2D virtual chorus of curious eyes, the piece explores the purifying power and danger of isolation, the threshold between suspension and action, and the real and the imagined to get at the crucial question of whether, if the dream is good—why wake?

"For the earth, it has been a short reprieve and a chance to replenish. For some of us, this has been a chance to reflect and slow down. For some, it has been a dark and lonely time"

Says Director and Librettist Tania Holland Williams, “I hope that audiences will be surprised (hopefully captivated) by the ensemble movement of our Zoom Chorus and what we have collectively discovered about ourselves in this period. There are moments when I hope that people watching the show will suddenly connect with the remote, virtual world of the Chorus as it echoes some of the emotional landscapes we have all been travelling through.”

The idea of hibernation very much resonates with the general climate of 2020, since we’ve all been part of a global human withdrawal during the lockdown. “For the earth, it has been a short reprieve and a chance to replenish. For some of us, this has been a chance to reflect and slow down. For some, it has been a dark and lonely time. All of this spoke to me of a world in mass hibernation,” says Tania.

Beethoven Was A Lesbian

Interactive Broadcast: 18:00-19:00, Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Between lecture-performance and love letter, Beethoven Was A Lesbian is a homage to Pauline Oliveros in extravagant temporal drag. Through playful dialogue, promiscuous citation, and interactive meditations, the performance seduces the tropes of classical music in order to dominate them. Performers conduct and are conducted, listen, flirt, sing, play, recline, read, die tragically, and bask in the soprano’s voice. 

We spoke to creators Sophie Seita & Naomi Woo about what inspired them to reinterpret Oliveros’s work and intricacies that were a part of adapting her work. Says Naomi, “With someone like Pauline Oliveros, it is hard to recall a single moment at which I might have discovered her and her work. Her music is something you do, rather than something you hear or something you know. Getting to know her, and her methods and tools of ‘deep listening’, is a constant process; I feel as if I am re-discovering her all the time.”


Pauline Oliveros. Image via wiki commons

For Tete a Tete, Sophie and Naomi have translated Oliveros’ work into an experimental sound art and mail art project. Tickets include a live broadcast as well as a unique set of postcards mailed to your home. In terms of what they hope the audiences will take away from the performance, they say, “Tangibly, audiences are guaranteed to take away a limited edition set of four postcards! Even if you can’t listen to our performance, do buy yourself a ticket and send us your address so we can mail them to you! We really wanted to include something physical and tangible in the performance.

As we say in the performance, postcards are ‘uniquely personal and intimate’; and even though we can’t be in live intimate spaces at the moment because of COVID-19, we wanted to create a sense of intimacy with our audiences, to remember that even at distance, intimate connection is not only possible, but indeed necessary, for keeping us whole, for looking after each other.”

The Interactive Broadcasts all take place via The Cockpit’s streaming system on The Cockpit’s website. They are available for 28 days after original broadcast 

Read more: How to appreciate opera?

Read more: 5 Pieces that'll get you into opera 

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter