FARGO — Nicknamed "the human comedy," "The Decameron" is a collection of titillating tales written in the 14th century, a kind of result of the human condition at the time.
Author Giovanni Boccaccio’s 100 tales reflect an escape from the Black Plague in Florence around 1300. All the stories center around love, ranging from the tragic to the erotic, including undertones of comedy and life lessons.
Bringing this story to life for the first time online, the Fargo-Moorhead Opera is joining forces with several other opera companies from around the country, including regional mainstays in Duluth, Minn., and Minneapolis and as far away as New York City and Houston, Texas, to bring the story to the 21st century.
Entitled “Tales from a Safe Distance,” the segmented online opera that will premiere virtually Fridays in October takes the form of your favorite bingeable series while using a historic text in a modern, musical way.
Similar to how the tales of "The Decameron" were written under strife and haste, the seven-minute virtual opera chapter featuring the FM Opera, "Dinner 4 3," was put together under a crunch and at a distance.
In a live conversation with the creatives behind the project, FM Opera General Director David Hamilton discussed the process from start to finish.
“Here we are, barely two months after I called you the first time, and we're ready to start filming,” Hamilton said in a Zoom conversation with the creatives some weeks ago.
The daylong filming of the project just wrapped, with each opera singer acting scene by scene and a team of videographers from Click Content Studios capturing the drama. Click Content Studios is owned by Forum Communications Co., which also owns The Forum and InForum.com.
“They didn't have the internet obviously, so they told stories,” says librettist Deborah Brevoort, who teamed up with composer Michael Ching to adapt the old story to a new age.
“This book has been dubbed 'the human comedy,'" Brevoort says. “It's considered low humor. It's utterly contemporary, so I think finding contemporary parallels was very easy.”
Split up into short operatic stories from the nine companies involved with the project, FM Opera's contribution, "Dinner 4 3," will premiere online Oct. 16.
“In a way, you could almost think of it as a festival of short films of opera, and there’s a wide variety,” Hamilton says about the project.
“I did a short stint in Hollywood and so I had made the paradigm shift of how to use the camera, because it gives you an incredible economy — and economy was key for this, and we only had seven to nine minutes,” Brevoort says.
“Dinner 4 3” features Hamilton, Kate Jackman and Joshua Kohl in a scandalous love triangle with bits of flowing "Havanaise" music, i.e. “Carmen,” interlaced with humor.
“I think it's going to be quite a challenge for our performers, because we're all operatic stage performers, and to translate that into film, so to speak, is going to be a real challenge,” Hamilton says.
“And I'll say, my gosh, the filming crew wants to start at 7:30 a.m. That is not an operatic start time,” Hamilton jokes.
Since the "Decameron" opera project was announced earlier this month, articles about the ambitious collaboration have popped up across the nation.
"This was a blast to write,” says Ching, the composer of "Dinner 4 3." "FM Opera has done several of my shows, so I'm delighted that they have commissioned this one. I'm sure the project will be a study of contrasts, so I can't wait to see the rest of the operas."
Each Friday in October, audiences will have access to a new episode including a diverse array of voices and visuals.
“Tales from a Safe Distance” will premiere virtually starting at 7 p.m. Central Oct. 9, with new episodes each Friday through Oct. 30 featuring two or three world premiere one-act operas. "Dinner for 3" is the first act of the Oct. 16 episode. The Oct. 30 episode will also include a tenth wraparound story starring internationally renowned bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni.
Tickets are $15. For more information, visit www.fmopera.org or decameronoperacoalition.org.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.