Angus Grant, composer and director of Victorian Opera’s Youth Chorus Ensemble, VOYCE, has written and produced a new miniseries called Opera-Bytes. Starring singers from the ensemble, it tells the story of a group of university-aged singers as they deal with life during the COVID-19 pandemic. With two episodes already available to watch on demand, Grant talks to Limelight about the idea’s genesis and what’s to come.

A still from the first episode of Opera-Bytes. Photo supplied

What gave you the idea for Opera-Bytes?

We did a layered, online recording of some Purcell with the VOYCE kids to help maintain a connection with them. These are all over the internet now. The result was good but ultimately just a shadow of what it would be like for them to sing it in person. I was, however, moved at seeing them in their homes making music and living their lives in isolation. I realised there was dramatic and musical potential within the restrictions of this digital medium. Victorian Opera was on board straight away and was able to offer the skills of their production team who had been rapidly re-skilling in video editing and recording.

What is the premise for Opera-Bytes?

The idea I came up with was to write short, comic scenes about the lives of a group of first year university students in isolation (and then have it performed by students in isolation). I thought it was sad for them to missing out on these first months of being in an adult environment and wondered how they might get around that.

How have the members of the ensemble risen to the challenge of performing remotely?

They have been brilliant. We rehearse with them once in person or online, but then they have to go and record to a piano track in their homes. I have been so impressed by how they have managed to fit in the challenging rhythms and create the sense of ensemble. It is rough at times, but that is part of the charm. What has really blown me away is the wonderful character work they have done without any direction.

How many more videos are planned for the series?

We have four planned at this stage and we’ll see how it goes from there. I have had a lot of feedback from people desperate to know if Chloe and Hugo will get together – will they get to meet now that restrictions have lifted?

What do you hope audience members take away from the series?

One of my wife’s colleagues sent us a recording of her three-year-old ‘speaking’ in opera language and refusing to speak normally. That’s a good start. I hope that they see that opera is an approachable art form that can tell modern stories and that it doesn’t always take itself so seriously.  I also hope it draws attention to the wonderful work Victorian Opera does with education and the performing opportunities it provides for young people.

What kind of skills do you hope members of the ensemble will hone or pick up from the experience of performing from their homes?

I spend most of my time with VOYCE working on text. Understanding it, believing it, working out how to deliver it meaningfully and clearly. This kind of text in English really tests those skills and I think there is a real benefit in terms of acting to be able to watch yourself on playback and alter how you portray a character. This also places a lot of responsibility on them to deliver when required and this will stand them in good stead.

Watch Opera-Bytes