Coronavirus Pandemic

The arts at your fingertips

With performances being cancelled and social distancing encouraged, arts lovers can still get their fix - online

Theatres on Broadway have gone dark.

Big museums, from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to London's Tate Gallery, are closed as a result of lockdowns.

Even if one could travel to other countries, this is now a moot point with new travel restrictions kicking in after Singapore saw a series of spikes in imported coronavirus cases last week.

While art lovers might not be able to go to their favourite haunts, arts venues and performers have found ways to reach their audiences via digital platforms.

Singapore's arts and culture purveyors are already offering digital options. The Esplanade is streaming archival gig recordings on its Offstage site (str.sg/JiCH).

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra is recording its concerts for its #DabaoSCO series, released on its Facebook page (str.sg/Jfmt) and its YouTube channel (str.sg/Jfmv).

The Necessary Stage, too, is offering an archival recording of its 2006 hospice drama, Good People, for free on Vimeo (str.sg/Jfmy) till April 16.

From virtual museum tours to music to Broadway shows, here is a quick round-up of what you can see and watch online.


1. EXPLORE ANGKOR WAT

You can practically spend an entire weekend exploring the history, culture, geography and impact of the Angkor empire at not one, not two but three websites.

Not quite better than the real thing, but Google's Street View (str.sg/JfsB) of Cambodia's famed Unesco World Heritage Site is not your average boring street view.

There is a time-lapse beauty shot of the archaeological landmark, which gives way to a dizzying "zoom in from a planetary to a bird's-eye" view of the site.

Scroll further and you can explore four temple complexes and tap little highlight boxes which give you a quick precis of buildings.

Consider this the casual tourist introduction before you plunge into the more serious depths of the other two websites.

Monash University's Visualising Angkor project (str.sg/JfsU) is an intriguing collection of 3D simulations which shows what life in the mediaeval city might have been like for its estimated 25,000 inhabitants. The animated visualisations are based on archaeological and architectural surveys as well as historical records.

Similarly, Virtual Angkor (str.sg/Jfs6) brings together a series of 360-degree visualisations of the city. This digital recreation, targeted at students, won the Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History awarded by the American Historical Association in 2018.

You can explore more complex themes such as Power & Place, and Trade & Diplomacy, using the online class modules.


2. ROYAL OPERA HOUSE

The English counterpoint to BroadwayHD and the Metropolitan Opera's livestream is the Royal Opera House's curated programme.

The selection of operas and ballets, including La Traviata and Alice In Wonderland, are hosted on Marquee TV (above).

To get access, you will have to sign up for a 30-day free trial on the site (str.sg/Jfsq). The service costs US$8.99 (S$13) a month or a special promotion rate of US$69.99 for an annual subscription.

Hardcore culture nuts might find this service a better bargain than BroadwayHD as it has a wider range of offerings from European companies, including the Bolshoi Ballet, Opera Zurich and Teatro Real.


3. READ FOR FREE WITH NATIONAL LIBRARY BOARD

You do not have to leave your home to get access to the National Library's vast collection of books, magazines and newspapers. They are available in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil on digital platforms. Check out the full directory of resources at str.sg/Jf84.

For English-language readers, make sure you have an active library account, download the Overdrive app (above) and, voila, instant access to everything from Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians (e-book or audiobook, take your pick) to Hilary Mantel's The Mirror And The Light (great to read on digital because the hardcover weighs 1.3kg).


4. THE METROPOLITAN OPERA'S LIVE IN HD ENCORE PRESENTATIONS

The famed Metropolitan Opera has been broadcasting performances live from its Lincoln Center home since 2006. Live performances may be cancelled, but opera fans can head to the Met Opera's homepage (www.metopera.org) where every day, one opera from this long-running series will be available for 24 hours.

This week is Wagner Week, so if you have always wanted to attempt a Ring cycle marathon, gird your loins. Das Rheingold with Wendy Bryn Harmer and Bryn Terfel is scheduled to kick off the series today, at 7.30pm New York time, which means Wednesday morning, 7.30am Singapore time.


5. GOOGLE'S ARTS & CULTURE

This is one of those rabbit holes down which you are likely to tumble and then emerge dazed and bleary-eyed two hours later.

Google's immense resources means this site (str.sg/Jfs8) is not just eye candy for art lovers - check out the eye-poppingly high-resolution scans of classic works you can zoom in so much that you can see individual brushstrokes.

You can get a quick crash course on everything from artists to mediums to colour. There are videos and mini-exhibitions organised by various museums around the world. The massive range of curated, quality content is positively mind-boggling.

With recommended links by Google's algorithms and slick, easy-to-navigate layouts, this sets the high bar for premium arts content.


6. VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

You can zoom in on more than 2,700 prized artefacts from 140 museums in 20 countries on this website (str.sg/JfsX).

Singapore museums on the list include the Asian Civilisations Museum, National Archives of Singapore and Singapore Art Museum.

While this website does not boast the fancy tech wizardry of Google's Arts & Culture site, it is sensibly laid out.

The museums are pinned on an interactive map on the homepage. You simply zoom, click and explore to your heart's content.

There are high-resolution images of selected artefacts, each accompanied by detailed descriptions which explain minutiae such as where items were found and why they are regarded as masterworks.


7. BROADWAYHD.COM

BroadwayHD.com launched in 2015, but this subscription service has introduced a free seven-day trial period in the wake of the coronavirus shutdowns.

You need to pick either the US$8.99 (S$13) a month or US$99.99 annual subscription plan first in order to get to the goodies. But the charges will kick in only after seven days. You might even want to stay subscribed after because this platform is a smorgasbord of content that will have theatre fans slavering in anticipation.

There are the crowd-pleasing musicals such as An American In Paris and Oklahoma! as well as more high-brow offerings like British director Phyllida Lloyd's astonishing take on Henry IV, set in a women's prison, and archival gems like a 1973 version of The Glass Menagerie starring Katharine Hepburn.

Not all the latest hit musicals are available. No Hamilton, for example, nor The Book Of Mormon. But you never know when the producers might decide that subscription income, meagre as it is compared with box-office sales, is better than zero take.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2020, with the headline 'The arts at your fingertips'. Print Edition | Subscribe