By Randi Bjornstad

It’s been one heck of a year so far, with conversations and behavior dominated by words most people barely knew before — coronavirus, Covid-19, pandemic, social distancing — heading the list.

These few words almost instantly turned everyone’s lives upside down, closing workplaces, schools, and churches, shutting down travel, theaters, concert halls, and galleries, and overwhelming clinics and hospitals, even as people “quarantined in place” to try to stop a plague that so far has claimed more than 750,000 lives worldwide.

And yet, however circumscribed life has become by this deadly microbe, people everywhere still try to find ways to do their part to defeat it, at the same time that they search for new ways to bring the soul-satisfying aspects of the arts to those who desperately need them, and that’s nearly everyone.

Eugene Opera has a couple of interesting virtual projects in the works, one of which involves putting out the call for new musical compositions in the form of classical vocal scores “on themes relevant to today’s current events: challenges of quarantine, social distancing and relationships, medical heroism, inter-generational concerns, and racial issues.”

Erika Rauer, the opera’s executive director, says that in the face of cancelling in-person productions for the year, the opera staff and board began thinking of creative ways to give opera lovers something to tide them over.

Songs of Quaran-Times

“We find ourselves in the strangest set of circumstances now —how to continue to offer a medium like opera that is above all about connection with people,” Rauer said. “We realized we had a special opportunity to do something on a smaller scale than usual. It takes a whole lot to commission an opera, but we got the idea of asking composers to generate smaller works that reflect their experience of what society is going through in these difficult times.”

The result is a call-for-submissions from composers — from college students to professionals — to submit compositions for voice and piano that include up to three operatic singers. The deadline for submissions is Sept. 15, after which Eugene Opera’s panel of judges — Damien Geter, Laura Kaminsky, and John Glover — evaluate the works and choose two winning entries.

The piano and vocal tracks will be filmed and recorded in the performers’ individual locations and streamed together in an online performance that will air during the winter, starting in December, on dates yet to be determined.

So far, Rauer said, “About 20 submissions have come in, and several have had pretty notable credits.”

Requirements for the competition are online at

Diva Cage Match

Even sooner than Songs of Quaran-Times comes to a computer screen near you, Eugene Opera has another project in the works, turning opera into a three-round competitive sport that pits six nationally known opera stars in a battle to become its Opera Diva Champion.

Instead of duking it out on the stage of the Hult Center for the Performing Arts — as was envisioned before coronvirus changed the world — the “duking” will happen online. Contestants include Brooklyn Snow, Cecilia Violetta López, Emily Pulley, Heather Johnson, Jill Gardner, and Leah Partridge.

David Lefkowich will emcee the battle, and the vocal fireworks will be judged by Anthony Laciura, Bethany Grace Howe, and Eric Richardson.

“To do this virtually, we had to send equipment and piano tracks to the artists all over the country,” Rauer said. “Then we have to have it all stitched together with backdrops.” Diva Cage Match is the property of Out of the Box Opera in Minneapolis, which emcee Lefkowich founded, Rauer said, “and they have never produced this in an online format, so it’s a first for them as well as us. It’s a light-hearted and, we hope, silly and fun way for people to enjoy opera.”

The show will be streamed starting Oct. 4. Tickets will be on sale soon at Information also is available on the Eugene Opera’s Facebook page.

Eugene Opera has a Sept. 15 deadline for composers to submit vocal-piano compositions that tell the story of the coronavirus pandemic.