A new kind of show must go on, so two Perth opera singers have dug behind the couch cushions to create a concert series. Ara Jansen reports.
Magda Lisek was meant to be doing a lot of things right about now. There was a role in the Pirates of Penzance and a competition in Germany for starters. This was the year things were supposed to really happen. Instead, the Perth-based opera singer and singing teacher found herself sitting on the couch with a diary full of cancelled, empty spaces.
“All my jobs had been cancelled overnight,” says Lisek, a 2016 graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts who has been doing her teaching online. “All my friends were in the same boat. I was wondering what I was going to do. I was watching the Met Gala At Home and it made me think ‘why not create something for us to be able to perform and share our music’.”
In a classic case of having to pivot fast, Couch Opera Live was born. The live streamed concert series brings together singers from all over the world, performing classical and musical theatre pieces, not far from their own couches at home.
“We’ve had more than 1400 views and the feedback has been really positive,” Lisek says of the first concert which happened on June 13. Around 800 of those views happened in the first 48 hours. The singer and her Couch Opera Live co-founder Jillian Halleron both performed in that first concert, which also included songs from bedrooms and kitchens around Perth and a few other countries.
On the classical side pieces performed included “Porgi Amor” and “Se vuol ballare” from The Marriage of Figaro, “Prendi per me sei libero” from The Elixir of Love sitting comfortably next to “On the street where you live” from My Fair Lady and “They don’t let you in the opera if you’re a country star”.
To give audiences a mix of material, Lisek and Halleron chose to include both opera and musical theatre performances. “Opera singers are quite diverse and we also love to sing other genres and live musical theatre is one of those. When I was little my first music teacher said if I could sing classically, then I could sing anything, so we’re bringing that to Couch Opera Live.”
The pair are busily working on the July concert and alongside the Perth performers, have fielded enquiries from a singer in Manchester, someone at a German opera company and a tenor from Miami. “We like the mix of some lighter and heavier pieces. I also hope we can get some duets and maybe even some ensembles when that becomes possible. We’re also happy to receive recommendations of singers to invite through our Facebook page,” says Lisek.
“This really feels like it has a community feel to it as singers want to perform and support each other. I can’t believe how it has taken off and am quite in awe of how many people have been enjoying it. We were excited to get so much positive feedback after the first concert. People said they really liked the idea of being able to see opera at home. Plus, it’s a great way for people who don’t know a lot about opera to try it.”
Couch Opera Live has also unexpectedly taught Lisek a handful of new tech skills. While she’s organised live concerts before, trying to figure out how to live stream a concert with performers in multiple locations was a new challenge. “I’ve definitely been learning on the job, trying to figure it all out,” she remarks. “Learning these new skills really has been a necessity and a big eye-opener. Luckily, a friend of a friend helped me through how to use the software to pull everything together.”
Ultimately Lisek says the concerts are about connecting people through music and using the power of music to lift people’s spirits and to give singers a chance to do what they love, which is perform.
While Couch Opera Live is free to watch on YouTube, a Go Fund Me page has been set up for donations, which go to the performers. “I hope people enjoy what they see and support these artists who have lost their work,” concludes Lisek.
Pictured top: Magda Lisek and Jillian Halleron at the YouTube launch of Couch Opera Live.