About the Virtual Orchestra

The Virtual Orchestra replaces piano-accompanied operatic performances and provides a warm and enveloping orchestral sound. As with a real orchestra, the conductor can control each beat of the music during the performance, allowing for changes in tempo, for ritardandos or slowing and fermatas. The result is an interactive, living orchestral sound. In creating the Virtual Orchestra, Dietrich Erbelding enters every note of every instrument from the full orchestral score by hand. After this, the sound is mixed to the conductor’s and sound engineer’s satisfaction. Creating and balancing each orchestral part takes much time and effort; it is very labor-intensive to first choose which instrumental sound to use for each orchestral part in a given passage, and then enter, edit and balance each note of every instrument.

The Virtual Orchestra makes opera possible for remote communities to stage opera in small theaters on a limited budget. This technology can now provide opera to many smaller communities in U.S. and abroad for community opera groups as well as high schools, colleges and universities, to whom the cost of an orchestra would be prohibitive. The Virtual Orchestra consists of emulators, synthesizers and a notebook computer. The whole system can fit into a big travel trunk that can be carried by one person, allowing this ensemble to go where no orchestra has gone before!

With Sound Designer Michael Fissolo, sound engineer, Dietrich Erbelding, conductor, have perfected a method using currently available software programs to create an interactive, computerized orchestral system to accompany complete operas. The Virtual orchestra has been successfully used in performances of portions of Die Walküre and all of Die Fledermaus in Fairfield, California, and full-length performances of Hänsel und Gretel with Golden Gate Opera. These performances were held in regional theaters with inadequate facilities and resources to accommodate a full-sized orchestra. This system has now come of age, given the innovations in software and sampled instrumental patches as well as the experience gained in entering and mixing the orchestral sounds.

Golden Gate Opera made use of this technology in its upcoming productions of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre in the Florence Gould Theater at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. This lovely theater has no room for a Wagnerian orchestra, so it could not be used for Wagnerian performances except by using this new medium. The alternative would be to use piano, which would be a poor substitute for Wagner’s lush and complex orchestral accompaniments.

This summer, Mr. Erbelding will direct the Lakeside Opera’s Magic Flute Summer Opera Workshop in Oakland, California, utilizing the Virtual Orchestra in both the workshop’s rehearsals and performances. Participants will have the rare chance to practice and perform with an orchestral accompaniment.