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Interview— CBC News

Digital opera artists invite you to Party Like It's 1699

Experiencing classical music through a modern lense

Jeanette Kelly

Baroque musician Aleks Schurmer and animator Frances Adair McKenzie have spent hours over the past six months crafting a digital opera for the 360-degree dome at the Society of Technological Arts (SAT). 

Their collective, Party Like It's 1699, is inspired by the extravagant parties hosted by Louis XIV at Versailles.

It's Schurmer's attempt at sharing his passion for baroque music with his friends and peers.

"I guess I was always curious why I was really into this area of study, but I also listen to [contemporary] music now," he said. "I don't just wear powdered wigs and stockings. It was strange to me that people are not exposed to this and don't understand why it would be great . . . Baroque music is pretty wacky."

Part of the experience at the SAT includes video projections onto the venue's dome, designed to give guest the feeling of stepping back in time. Schurmer thinks the wacky, over-the-top elements of baroque are a way the younger crowd can connect with the centuries-old sound. 

The two artists have created a baroque-inspired decor for the dome — using friends and colleagues to pose as period-echoing models, like naked cherubs for the proscenium, or play the roles of theatre patrons from the time. 

When I visited the space, I was given the role of Anne of Austria, Queen Mother to Louis XIV and dressed in a costume put together with black Bristol board and netting cut from the hem of McKenzie's party dress.

With CBC arts producer Scott Tresham, a.k.a. Cardinal Mazarin, I improvised a couple of minutes of conversation, which will be visible and audible on the dome of the SAT during the event.

The idea behind the projection is to give guests the impression they're dropping in on a show taking place centuries earlier.  The art is produced out-of-pocket by the two artists because their grant application didn't meet the interdisciplinary criteria for Canada Council funding.

They did, however, secure a residency at the SAT for September and October, which is helping to cover the venue and projection costs. Opening night on Tuesday will include live music, dance and a baroque menu created by the Foodlab at the SAT as well as the digital recording and visuals. 

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