An interesting thing happened when a global pandemic landed directly in the path of an opera composed by a Spanish national hero. This is the story of how millions of people from various geographies, speaking different languages – but all with a love for opera – connected via technology to celebrate the beauty of culture and composition.
March 11, 2020 started out as any other ordinary Spring day should. The headlines of the day continued to raise awareness and some concern over the COVID-19 virus that was running rampant in Wuhan, China. The world watched, not knowing how this would play out. As the day played out and turned into night, the impact of the virus’ spread in the US was felt as the NBA shut down its season. Thursday March 12th would be a day unlike any other for Videon CEO Todd Erdley. “At 6:30pm, I received word the company had to shut down as a decree from the Governor of Pennsylvania. We had no idea what was going to happen at Videon.”
The next day, an interesting thing happened halfway around the world. If I told you that a combination of technology, music and a global pandemic would create an event with such human interest that it resonated with people all around the world, you might look at me with your head slightly askance. And you would be right, but a global pandemic will change things we once thought were fairly predictable.
Music and movement uplift people around the world
Months of preparation had been spent perfecting the music and movement. Thousands of people had purchased tickets. But, thanks to COVID, the event was not to be. The Taipei Opera’s historic performance, a Taiwanese premiere of El amor brujo (ballet) and La vida breve (opera) by world renowned Spanish composer Manuel de Falla was to be held at Taiwan’s national opera house (the Taichung National Theater) on March 21. COVID-19 had other plans, of course – and the event was canceled. However, the performers were allowed to have one dress rehearsal the night prior. Ren Egawa, CEO of Rexcel, and longtime partner of Videon, had planned to be there. But local authorities and health officials ruled that out, as no one beyond the performing company and theatre staff were allowed inside the venue.
So amid a growing pandemic and an uncertain number of months ahead, technology and a bit of ingenuity enabled the opera to be viewed, live, by over 10,000 remote viewers in real time. Overall, the performance has since amassed more than 50,000 views from people around the world after just a month. Before the pandemic, no one could have predicted this much interest and from across the globe. Delivering a Taiwanese premiere of the Spanish music masterpiece brought in viewers from Spain, France, Italy, various countries in Latin America, and America, to watch a performance held in Taiwan which, had it been performed live, would only have amassed an audience of a few thousand. Still, Videon CEO Todd Erdley found the performance to be just what the doctor ordered. “I’d been following news of the spread of the coronavirus, and was beginning to think about what the implications might be to my family, the company and our customers. The emotions associated with not knowing if the company would survive let alone our colleagues and their families would be safe balanced against seeing a world wide audience watch the opera made the live streaming of the opera something I will never forget.” Despite the proverbial grey clouds gathering, Erdley says the music and movement were a much needed lift.
The lift was felt halfway across the world, too. “I told everyone in Taiwan this: Rexcel and Videon gave our performance the wings to fly. And fly it did… landing in Spain’s Andalusia where Manuel de Falla was born and caught the attention of an Andalusian conductor who is one of the principal conductors at the Ballet Nacional de España and a proponent for Falla’s music,” says Dau-Hsiong Tseng, Taipei Opera’s Music Director. “Thanks to this livestream, he was able to witness our production’s serious approach and respect for Falla’s masterpieces even though Taiwan is thousands of miles away from Andalusia, and naturally we became good friends. The stream brought miracles beyond imagination.“
Technology meets simplicity
A key component in making this event fly was the simplicity of setup and operation. Of particular note is that neither Ren nor any of his staff were able to enter the opera hall to setup the equipment that would provide the rehearsal stream to the audience. They had to physically hand the devices to security, in hopes that personnel inside could make it all work. Rexcel Simple livestreaming as a service (LaaS) powered by Videon’s EdgeCaster offers an unprecedented simple setup that reduces the complexity and cost associated with high-quality livestreaming. Rexcel Simple LaaS pre-configures and pre-tests multiple EdgeCaster encoders matched to the number of camera feeds that the organizer plans to use to multi-stream to a YouTube account or content delivery network (CDN) of their choosing. This setup allows each remote audience member to select their preferred camera view during the live event. The key takeaway here is that video technology is now so simple and yet sophisticated that non-technical people such as a Opera conductor or staff can operate and provide a world-class experience.
So as the curtain dropped at the end of the rehearsal, and despite the uncertainty of what lay ahead – an interesting intersection of opera aficionados, technologists, and viewers who needed some levity – an opera united them all, if only for a short time.
The opera that keeps on giving
The Taipei Opera’s 2020-2021 season is set to begin at the end of this month on September 26th. To the surprise of many, but to no one reading this story, is the news that they have been chosen to open the season by performing El amor brujo and La vida breve – this time with a full orchestra and audiences. But that’s only the beginning of the phoenix-like rise of this event. The connection between the Taiwanese opera company and the Spanish national ballet that was forged by the pandemic rehearsal is breathing life into the ‘reboot’, if you will.
The principal conductor of the Spanish national ballet will be flying from Madrid to Taipei to participate in this gala event, and will conduct the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra. Further, both Spanish and Taiwanese personnel will be shooting a documentary for viewing after the gala. Both films will be merged to create a complete documentary film.
There will be a limited in-person audience, and as you would expect, this gala will be livestreamed and Rexcel and Videon are excited to help deliver this to a global audience. Given the interest in the rehearsal, the opera house has chosen to double the upstream bandwidth from 20Mbps to 40Mbps, which will provide for two 4K simultaneous livestreaming channels. Each will be set to 20Mbps to showcase EdgeCaster’s ability to deliver optimal video quality.
So as we globally emerge from this pandemic, it seems these are the stories that help form and shape us for the days ahead. In this case, the intersection of the human elements, technology and beautiful music and performance serve to show us that better days are ahead, while also helping us to recall the challenges we’ve faced. We look forward to the challenges and moving video.
Authored by Matt Smith
Matt Smith is a recognized digital media industry evangelist and thought leader, having spoken at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show, IBC, and various other shows. He’s served in a variety of roles in the industry during his career, with stops at Comcast, Brightcove Anvato, Envivio and others.