Losing her Voice - a new interactive opera explores the cult of celebrity

A new interactive opera inspired by America’s first true superstar - Geraldine Farrar, will let the audience be part of the performance, thanks to the collaborative efforts of experts in music and computer science from the University of Nottingham and Lakeside Arts.

Losing Her Voice will premiere in the Djanogly Theatre at Lakeside Arts on 6 April at 2:30pm with a second performance on 7 April at 7pm. The opera features original music and libretto by Dr Elizabeth Kelly, an Assistant Professor in the University of Nottingham’s Departmentof Music.

In a truly collaborative project, Dr Kelly has worked closely with colleagues from the University’s Mixed Reality Lab - Professor Chris Greenhalgh and Dr Adrian Hazzard, to use new technologies which allow the audience to be involved with the performance through a specially designed app.

Before the show the app will provide information about the opera, and will also allow the audience to contribute a picture of themselves (a selfie), that will be used on-screen in the second act. During the performance the app will keep track of the current scene, and at key points the audience will be able to take part in social media-style quizzes and polls.

The opera also provided a unique opportunity for students at the University. A new module entitled ‘From Page to Stage: Bringing Opera to Life’ has been introduced to allow students to audition for the chorus or instrumental ensemble. It also enabled them to gain hands-on experience developing an opera through workshops, lectures and rehearsals, whilst performing alongside professionals.

Students from Nottingham Trent University’s Theatre Design course were responsible for the costume and set design.

Four professional opera singers: Susanna Fairbairn, Jeremy Huw Williams, Maria Vassiliou and Andrew Henley perform the principal roles in the opera. Developing a new opera is a major undertaking and the dedicated team of Lakeside’s professional artistic directors, technical and administrative staff have worked with the composer and Mixed Reality Lab researchers to bring the opera to life on stage.

The opera is inspired by the life of American opera diva Geraldine Farrar, a famous singer in the early twentieth century. Farrar made a name for herself singing in the grand opera houses of Europe and America including the Berlin State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In 1915 she appeared a silent film version of Carmen - after losing her voice due to overwork. She had a huge female fan base known as Gerry-Flappers, and was a global superstar.

Although Farrar lived in the early 20th century, her life continues to resonate in today’s society. The opera explores the cult of celebrity and a world in which fans and audience are no longer merely observers but active participants in the unfolding stories.

Dr Kelly said: “As we grapple to come to terms with contemporary social media and fandom, ‘Losing Her Voice’ looks back at Geraldine Farrar, a star from the early days of sound and film recording. Farrar rose to fame on the opera stage, becoming one of the world’s first bestselling recording artists and eventually made the transition to the silent screen — a uniquely modern American prima donna. She became an international celebrity with throngs of female fans who came to be known as ‘Gerry-Flappers’ — an empowered female artist who inspired the first generation of American women voters.

“The development of ‘Losing Her Voice’ has truly been a citywide effort with generous support from UK and international grants. I worked closely with the University’s Mixed Reality Lab to develop an audience app, and Nottingham Trent University researchers and students have been integral to the work’s visual design. The performances will feature professional performers alongside University of Nottingham student musicians.”

The development of Losing Her Voice received funding from OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers program, supported by the Virginia B.Toulmin Foundation. A British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant supported research and workshops around development and collaborative research with the Mixed Reality Lab was supported by a University of Nottingham ’Creative and Digital’ Research Priority Area Development grant, the EPSRC FAST (Fusing Audio and Semantic Technologies) Grant and the EPSRC Living with Digital Ubiquity Platform Grant. This project was developed in collaboration with Nottingham Lakeside Arts.

Losing Her Voice is free to attend, but bookings are highly recommended. Bookings can be made via the Lakeside Arts’ website or by calling the Box Office on 0115 846 7777 .

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