Learn more about Orfeo Remote

Joachim Schamberger, Director

Can you tell us about the technology you are using to put together Orfeo Remote?

Producing an online opera film requires several essential programs. Most fundamentally, the students will be using personal computers, tablets, smartphones, and quality microphones to capture sound and video.  All materials are then gathered and shared in the cloud for various stages of editing.  Ultimately the film will be completed using Final Cut Pro and combined with the final audio edit (executed by Prof. Alltop). This ambitious project requires enormous planning and clarity. As far as I am aware, we may be the first to attempt to produce a complete opera with orchestra as a remote film. Northwestern has been extremely resourceful in providing the essential funding necessary to ensure the highest-level production.

What's been your biggest challenge with this project so far?

The biggest challenge is the overall logistics and coordination. All performers not only have to sing and act, they now must become recording engineers and filmmakers. And all of this happens via Zoom. We discuss character and interpretation as well as decide shot types, framing, timing, and, most importantly, screen direction. Since each student films independently, we need to determine in detail everyone’s “position” so the final edit appears seamless. While this is all very complicated, it also provides a wonderful learning opportunity. Acquiring basic fluency in video and audio production will be increasingly essential for musicians.

How is Monteverdi's Orfeo still relevant to our world and human experience?

Orfeo is a story about loss, fear, and taking initiative. In this regard it reflects our current experience in society, and for artists in particular. The temporary suspension of the arts in performance is an enormous loss, and fear of how it may come back is in the minds of the entire artistic community. Here we tell the story of Orfeo through the lens of an unemployed musician who takes initiative during a pandemic. She reaches out to colleagues to create an online Orfeo project. In this way we explore our own experience through the power of myth, story, and music.

Stephen Alltop, Conductor

What’s your process/plan thus far when it comes to musical preparation (i.e. group music rehearsals, virtual sectionals, language work, etc.)?

There are about four main phases to the completion of Orfeo Remote from the musical side:  

1) To start, I have recorded every note and line of the opera at home on my harpsichord and chamber organ (and occasionally a tambourine!). These recordings provide accompaniments for Zoom coachings, and reference recordings for performers to listen to in recording their music. I am coaching everyone in the cast via Zoom - it's actually working quite well! Alessandra Visconti has created audio files of the Italian diction for choruses. Alan Darling and others are also coaching singers.  

2) We are now at the stage of adding some vocal and instrumental lines that will assist performers in making their final recordings - I call these "enhanced" reference recordings. I am also making videos that show me conducting to these recordings to communicate inflections and releases (such videos are made into Youtube links that I send to performers). Assistant Conductor Victor Huls and Chorus Master Andrew Major will make at least one conducting video each, and are providing wonderful assistance for the project.

3) Using the "enhanced" reference recordings and conducting videos, all performers will record their lines and submit them to the various accounts we have organized to receive them. 

4) As the individual recordings come in, I will be assembling the final composite audio recordings that Joachim Schamberger will use as the "soundtrack" to Orfeo Remote. The goal, however difficult it may be to achieve, is to render a final musical product that belies that we were all separated as we created it.

What’s been your biggest challenge with this project so far?

The biggest challenges are time and technology! Enormous time issues because the project will require over 1,000 audio recordings generated by myself and the performers, to say nothing of all the videos for the filming. It's rather daunting to manage while also teaching six classes online. As for technology, I would have never dreamed around March 15 all I would have to learn before and during our Spring Quarter. Joachim, who is a tech whiz, has been so helpful, as have many other people. My wife Josefien Stoppelenburg has already edited more videos than I can count. I'm a conductor, but this "stay at home" time has forced me to translate the manipulation of sound on the podium into sound in recordings. As I start to hear glimpses of what the finished product will be like, it's pretty much as exciting as if we were actually together!

Please tell us a few of your favorite things about Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo.

It is amazing to consider that this "fable in music," as Monteverdi called it, is 413 years old but as relatable now as it would have been to the audiences of 1607. The variety of music is staggering, in both sonorities and emotions. From the loftiest joy to the deepest grief, it is all there in both glorious sound and timeless words. 

I also love that for our vocal and instrumental students, working on this project and this opera is an educational goldmine. They will learn so much that will stay with them their entire lives.

Kandise Le Blanc, La Musica

Tell us about your role in this opera.

I'm performing La Musica in Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. La Musica is the first character the audience meets in the opera. She sets the exposition for the story of Orfeo and Eurydice in the prologue. La Musica is larger than life and the personification of music. Her storytelling uses great hyperboles and contrasts to captivate the audience with the plot that is about to unfold.

What's your favorite aspect of the project so far?

My favorite aspect of the project so far is learning how to balance being a director, cinematographer, and actress all at the same time. Throughout the filming process, I'm contemplating Where should the camera go? What items should be in the frame? When is the best time to film?. In addition to my Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance/Opera, I'm also pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing with an emphasis in mixed media. I love discovering how film, music, and text can illustrate aspects of a shared human experience. I'm incredibly grateful for Professor Schamberger's expertise and guidance throughout this experimental process.

How is this different interpretive medium influencing the way you shape your character, both musically and theatrically?

Acting for the screen is very different from staged theater. The biggest difference is the distance between myself and the audience. In Cahn Auditorium, the stage is far away from the audience. In order to convey the grandiose nature of La Musica, I would need to exaggerate my gestures and facial expressions so every audience member could see what’s going on. However, in Orfeo Remote, I can get extremely close to the camera and close the gap between the audience and me. This digital production supports subtle music inflections because I don't need to worry about projecting past an orchestra 10 feet in front of me. Because of the close-up nature of this interpretive medium, I'm exploring the coy aspects of La Musica's personality through natural and controlled gestures.

Nicholas Lin, Orfeo

Tell us about your role in this opera.

I play Orfeo, son of Apollo and a muse, demigod of music, and lover of Eurydice. Much of the story follows my journey into Tartarus as I fight to retrieve the soul of my beloved Eurydice from Plutone, the king of the underworld. I, along with my other cast-mates, also occasionally play the role of director, recording artist, lightning technician, camera operator, key grip, assistant to key grip, and much more while recording various scenes at home.  

What's your favorite aspect of the project so far?

Orfeo Remote has become a project that excites me creatively and makes me feel connected to my Northwestern peers in a new way. During Zoom rehearsals, I am inspired by my cast-mates' ingenuity, determination, sense of humor, and emotional sensitivity. Since almost all of the singers-turned-filmmakers are out of their element, there is a real sense of vulnerability among us. We are creating art in a new, “remote” way, and so we must overcome unprecedented obstacles. In dealing with these obstacles, I feel proud when a fellow student hurdles a barrier, regardless of size, because they represent a shared hope for the future of opera and music theatre's artistic impact, even if the platform must evolve.  

How is this different interpretive medium influencing the way you shape your character, both musically and theatrically?

I think that many aspects of my interpretation have remained the same. On stage and on camera, Orfeo has the same musical material and stage directions. If anything, performing outside of a theatre has only shown me different colors of myself that would be perfectly applicable to the stage. However, I do think we have a new amount of control over the kind of tone we want to inject into the production. Because all of us are filming in separate locations, with different lighting, and different weather situations, it is difficult to seamlessly create the illusion that we are all in the same place. Therefore, the way that we decide to film ourselves, with different props, lighting, and locations, adds a lot of character to the movie mosaic. Just today, I drew inspiration from the Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder” and submitted my extra-narrative, extra-musical idea to Professor Schamberger. When you have a budget and limited time to rehearse and a fully blocked show it is hard for an actor to go on such a crazy tangent outside the director's vision.  


  • Joachim Schamberger
  • Stephen Alltop