Students Participate in Creation of Virtual Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto streams in three episodes.



The students who signed up to participate in the Department of Music’s Fall 2020 course MPP/MTD 219: Opera Performance expected to perform a staged version of La Calisto, Francesco Cavalli’s 17th-century opera, in Richardson Auditorium at the end of the term. The arrival of the pandemic quickly necessitated a change in plans as students returned home for a semester of virtual learning. The result: the creation of a virtual opera, recorded with phone cameras from students’ homes scattered across the world, in a production conducted by Performance Program Director Michael Pratt, directed by Christopher Mattaliano (Portland Opera, Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera), edited by videographer Christopher McDonald, and with dramaturgy by Department Chair Wendy HellerLa Calisto will premiere on Saturday, March 6, 2021 as a three-episode series on the Department of Music’s YouTube page. The episodes will remain available for on-demand streaming following the premiere.

“As we created this pandemic-infused version of a 1651 masterpiece, we were not exactly sure where we would land. It has been a communal exploration by the whole company, and we have all discovered new perspectives on this ancient tale. We have discovered, once again, that timeless art is called that for a reason. La Calisto speaks strongly to our current circumstance in very specific ways, always enveloped in music of poetic beauty.”

— Conductor Michael Pratt

With a libretto by Giovanni Faustini after the myth from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, La Calisto lent itself well to a time of pandemic as a story centered around impossible yearning. “Most of the characters create their own realities, and dream of what is missing from their lives,” explains director Christopher Mattaliano. Photos and video clips provided by the cast, showcasing what they miss most about pre-pandemic life, are incorporated as a montage in the final production. The production team, too, created the new reality of inventing a virtual opera format—which involved recording and layering every instrument and voice one at a time with audio equipment and special software mailed to each student’s home, while stage direction was communicated and rehearsed over video calls. “The conditions and limitations under which this virtual production needed to be rehearsed and created—using nothing but our cell phones, laptops, and imaginations—became a source of inspiration for all of us,” Mattaliano continues. “It has been a first-hand reminder that art and the need for human expression will continue to survive wars, plagues, political upheavals and pandemics.”

The need for expression and connection made the course feel all the more meaningful for the student cast members within the isolation posed by a virtual learning environment. “It was definitely exciting and vital for me to feel like I was doing something meaningful during everything that was going on,” shares Princeton University senior Kevin Williams, “especially as it can be quite challenging to think of anything new and positive to do or contribute to life right now…participating in this opera helped me feel sane during this time.” 

Featuring a cast of seventeen student singers and instrumentalists, La Calisto is part of the Department of Music’s vibrant performance program, which continues to engage students across the campus community. 


Singers: Leila Abou-Jaoude ’22, Tim Amarell ’22, Hannah Bein ’22, Emily Cruz ’22, Jamie Feder ’23, Mariana Corichi Gomez ’21, Marley Jacobson ’22, Siyang Liu ’21, Ally Noone ’23, Rupert Peacock ’23, Katelyn Rodrigues ’23, Kevin Williams ’21 | Orchestra:Mika Hyman ‘22, Cameron Khan ‘23, Joanna Kuo ‘22, Allie Mangel ‘22 | Conductor: Michael Pratt | Director: Christopher Mattaliano | Videographer: Christopher McDonald | Dramaturg: Wendy Heller | Harpsichord Continuo: Joyce Chen’ GS | Librettist: Giovanni Faustini

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