The Hubble Cantata

The Hubble Cantata Virtual Reality Glasses
Virtual reality glasses for The Hubble Cantata

The stars were certainly out in Brooklyn last night. I mean gazillions of stars — more stars than I have ever seen here in our light-polluted city. In fact, I felt like I was floating through the cosmos. I could see infinite space in every direction. There were shooting stars, and I even watched the birth of a star in the Orion Nebula. I felt giddy with weightlessness — that is until I bumped elbows with the astronaut next to me. Coming back down to earth, I removed the virtual reality headset I had been looking through and returned to the Prospect Park bandshell. Paola Prestini’s impressive opera, The Hubble Cantata, had just concluded. I walked home reflecting on the ambitious performance I had just seen. Produced by VisionIntoArt and National Sawdust; co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects; and featuring Norway’s 1B1 Ensemble, The Washington Chorus, and the fantastic Brooklyn Youth Chorus — it was the ultimate collaboration. It must have been quite a challenge to present. Figure in the free wi-fi provided by Time Warner Cable (so that we could download the app with the virtual reality movie onto our iPhones which we then inserted into our headsets) — and the virtual reality experience created by VIRTUALIZE — and it’s almost hard to imagine they pulled it all off, but they did. There was a small challenge with the limited bandwidth of the wi-fi, but to their credit, everyone involved had tried very hard to get the audience to download the app and movie beforehand.

The Hubble Cantata celebrates the era of Hubble Telescope, coming to an end in 2018, which brought us closer to understanding our universe that ever before. There was a film that accompanied the opera, created by Eliza McNitt, which was projected onto a scrim in front of the stage. The black and white photography was stunning, and helped narrate the story of the relationship of a man and a woman and their cosmic connection, from birth to death. Astrophysicist Mario Livio blew my mind with voice-overs about our relationship to the stars. (He and former NASA astronaut, Mike Massimino, spoke before the performance.) Visual effects were created by The Endless Collective, and the performance was presented at BRIC’s Celebrate Brooklyn Festival. I wanted to list all these contributors because I was awed by the complexity of the project, and at how well it was executed. Jessica Rivera and Nathan Gunn sang the parts of the wife and husband beautifully, but the real magic was in the choral interludes. Paola Prestini’s writing for the 100 member chorus was mesmerizing — and the choir members did it justice. Despite the enormity of the whole project, it was the music written for combined human voices that was truly out of this world. All the rest — as impressive as it may have been — was just bells and whistles.

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