HomeA Remarkably Inventive A Cappella Premiere

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Is it possible to write an opera without an orchestra? Composer Michael Ching's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," given its world premiere here by Opera Memphis and Playhouse on the Square, has a "voicestra," an ensemble of a cappella singers, instead of instruments in the pit. Popular a cappella has branched out in recent years from its old-fashioned roots (think "The Whiffenpoof Song") to all kinds of music, including elaborate arrangements of up-to-the-minute rock and hip-hop numbers, with voices re-creating the instrumental parts.

Mr. Ching's remarkably inventive opera is a celebration of what voices can do and still, with the exception of a few startling vocal percussion effects, sound like voices. The voicestra —between 15 and 20 amplified voices, depending on the performance—supports the singers on the stage, its overlapping lines and syllables weaving around them, amplifying their characters and conflicts, sometimes echoing their words (or even their thoughts), or supplying atmosphere. The voicestra gives the opera an added human dimension, and its invisibility goes with the magical nature of the story.

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