When a drama professor and a music professor collaborate to create a new performance, you would expect the result to be an opera. But when a scenic design professor and a computer music professor collaborate, the result is Microepiphanies: A Digital Opera. The new opera, written and directed by UC Irvine professors Douglas-Scott Goheen and Christopher Dobrian, was premiered in April 2000 and has since been performed throughout California. Goheen is the head of the graduate program in scenic design at UCI, and Dobrian is the director of UCI's Gassmann Electronic Music Studio.
We recently spoke with composer Christopher Dobrian to find out what a digital opera is. "Well, everyone has their own immediate impression when they hear the word 'opera'. I dare say for most people it's some form of Romantic grand opera such as Verdi or Wagner, with elaborate production, enormous sets, complex lighting, lush costuming, full orchestra, larger-than-life superstar singers...in short, a highly stylized extravagant multimedia spectacle. So when people hear 'digital opera' they assume it will be something like that with a bit of electronic something-or-other thrown in. Except, what we've done is thrown out all that other stuff, and just left in the electronic something-or-other."
An opera about nothing? "Quite the contrary. About epiphany. Or rather, micro-epiphanies, which are much harder to detect," he smiles. "But I'd say that, really, Microepiphanies is a 'non-opera'...or an 'anti-opera' if you will. Not anti- in the sense of 'against', because we have no interest in alienating opera-lovers, but anti- in the sense of 'opposite of'. Or, to coin yet another term, it's a meta-digital-anti-opera, because it's a digital anti-opera about digital anti-opera."
You can see photos of the premiere performance of Microepiphanies, which occurred April 12, 2000 at 8:00 pm in Winifred Smith Hall at UCI.
You can listen to audio excerpts from that performance (in MP3 format):
The collaborative project Microepiphanies is a "Digital Opera" -- a multimedia performance in which the music, the lighting and visual effects, and even the appearance of the scenery are all under realtime computer control, with the computer(s) engaging in intelligent interaction with the live performers.
Arts professors at the University of California, Irvine have undertaken a joint project to realize this new work and to present it at no less than five UC campuses in 2000 (with future national and international performances to be scheduled immediately thereafter). This endeavor includes environments designed by scenic design professor Douglas-Scott Goheen, computer-processed and computer-generated animations and music composed and programmed by music professor Christopher Dobrian, video processing by video art professor Ulysses Jenkins, and additional artistic and technological contributions by several other artists. The result is a sixty-minute musical/theatrical performance in which every aspect is computer-mediated.