How To Make Opera During a Pandemic
Passion in a Pandemic: Making Opera at Hanover High School will have its Upper Valley premiere at the Nugget Theater in Hanover NH on Tuesday, November 1 at 7:00 pm.
The pandemic, especially in its earliest months, was horrific for all the reasons that need not be articulated. Existing on a parallel plane, however, were the stories of resilience and creativity and the staunch refusals to give in. Those stories could be found everywhere—in doctor’s offices and grocery stores, in families who stood outside of the windows of nursing homes to celebrate birthdays with loved ones inside. Then there was the derring-do of teachers in schools and in the arts communities.
The 57-minute documentary by Upper Valley filmmaker Nora Jacobson highlights that resilience and creativity at Hanover High School. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, Jennifer Chambers, then Choral Director, music teacher, and herself an opera singer, created a project to teach opera to Hanover High School students. She enlisted the help of Dartmouth College’s renowned conductor Filippo Ciabatti to work with students throughout the project, designed to culminate in a public performance. Due to COVID concerns, original plans were to have Ciabatti coach the students on Zoom. Those plans changed (with many safeguards in place) to permit in-person and group sessions. All the better for everyone, including Jacobson, who was able to capture it all on film.
The focal points in the documentary are the people. First is Jennifer Chambers, whose enthusiasm shines through the hard work, aimed at producing in her words “a bubble of joy in the midst of a pandemic that is so tough.” Filippo Ciabatti is both demanding (“I try not to patronize . . “) and tender, dispensing critiques (nicely) and praise. His conducting is a joy to watch; he reveals he wanted to be a conductor since early childhood because he loved how conductors “generated sound with their hands.” Finally, of course, are the students, grappling with a new art form and Italian with its rolled Rs, and with exhortations to embrace something called legato.
Jacobson’s camera is there for the rehearsals, the hallway chatter, individual students at home in their bedrooms (occasionally with cats meandering in the background) as they speak directly into the filmmaker’s lens. And then there is the final performance staged at St. Denis Catholic Church.
The screening at the Nugget is a fundraiser for Jacobson and Chambers to prepare and promote the film for a national broadcast on Public Television. There will be a talk back directly after the screening with Director Nora Jacobson, Co-Producer Jennifer Chambers, and Dartmouth Conductor Filippo Ciabatti. Several students from the film will also be in attendance. Admission at the door.
(For further information, click here. Photos and advance screening of the film courtesy of Jennifer Chambers and Nora Jacobson)
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.