Imagine floating in the middle of space, seeing what it’s like inside a nebula, following the Hubble Space Telescope, literally reaching your hands out to touch the stars. Add a beautiful soundtrack featuring an orchestra, chorus, and two renowned opera singers. Sound amazing? Now imagine that you’re enjoying all of this at the Prospect Park Bandshell, for free, as part of BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival. It’s not a fantasy—it’s The Hubble Cantata, from composer Paola Prestini, which will take place on Saturday, August 6.
The most exciting element about this already noteworthy performance is that audience members will receive a free cardboard headpiece that—once attached to a smartphone—will allow them to experience space via virtual reality, which will be incorporated into the production.
“The piece has had several stepping-stones in terms of formation, and we wanted to re-imagine the multimedia for this particular performance,” said Paola, who also owns production company VisionIntoArt (VIA) and the Williamsburg performance venue National Sawdust.
August 6 will be the World Premiere of this full multi-media project, featuring a film from director Eliza McNitt with Hubble images; 360-degree sound from Arup; VR elements thanks to The Endless Collective and Virtualize; and a full cantata—a love story between an astrophysicist and his wife, which mirrors the birth, life, and death of a star.
Bay Chamber Concerts originally commissioned Prestini to create a piece to honor the Hubble Space Telescope’s 25th anniversary in April 2015. Working with the Space Telescope Science Institute, Paola connected with astrophysicist Dr. Mario Livio, who often writes about the intersection of science and art.
“Royce Vavrek, the librettist, and I looked at Mario’s writing and realized it would be an exciting collaboration,” Paola said. Livio writes a blog that highlights the intersections between scientific findings and art, and he will be present at this premiere, working with the electronics and sound elements.
“Working with an astrophysicist was one of the most inspiring experiences in the sense I got to learn directly from someone who spends his life studying stars, which is the most extraordinary thing,” she added. “When we began to put the story together, the theme called for large forces and the feeling of being submerged in sound.”
The team started off writing the piece for soprano Jessica Rivera, but when they decided to expand it to an evening-length piece with an additional male perspective, they brought on baritone Nathan Gunn. In addition, Norwegian orchestra 1B1 and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, directed by Julian Wachner, will also be performing.
The love story between the astrophysicist and his wife mirrors the birth, life, and death of a star, combining personal experiences with science and the cosmos. This is one theme that Paola and her team are excited about sharing: allowing the audience to experience space and this production in their own way.
“The Hubble Telescope has allowed us to see the cosmos in a personal way,” explained Natalia Schwien, the producer of the Cantata and director of VIA Records. “For things that feel much larger than us, Hubble makes us feel like they are something we have a deep connection with and not out of reach. It’s important to us to make art and science accessible.”
Additionally, Natalia emphasized that this event will appeal to individuals from many backgrounds and of all ages. The production team ranges from youth chorus members to an astrophysicist with decades of experience working with the Space Telescope Science Institute. Like the borough of Brooklyn, this production has attracted a wide range of collaborators, and they hope that all of the city can enjoy their final piece—including taking advantage of a unique VR experience.
“This is too special of a project for it to NOT be innovative,” Natalia said. “Having a two-dimensional film isn’t pushing any boundaries. There are space films all the time; the VR allows us to make this even more of a personal interaction.”
The plan is to take the Cantata to other festivals or set up a more permanent viewing experience here in Brooklyn, continuing to make this VR experience accessible and enhance the personal viewing experience.
That’s one reason why the Prospect Park Bandshell is an ideal venue for this World Premiere. “We’re excited to have a communal experience and to have it at night, under the stars,” Paola said. “To have this story about the cosmos presented in a very authentic, organic environment is so exciting.”
Come to the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival on Saturday, August 6 to be a part of this exciting evening!