Rossini in drive-in as San Francisco Opera returns


San Francisco – It’s almost too good to be right after the Wagnerian scale epidemic closes: a viewer of the singers’ pulse arrives at the War Memorial Opera House and performs Rossini’s classic comedy “The Barber of Seville” .

And, in fact, we are not there yet. After 16 months, the San Francisco Opera performed live with “The Barber of Seville” last week, but not in the usual house of the house at the War Memorial. it is rather Submission of work through May 15 Some 20 miles north, in a Marin County park. The cast for this degraded version is composed of six main characters, who appear as singers, who return to the opera house to work with their Rossinian counterparts.

Many of the plots have been encapsulated as rehearsal days, with the final stages of the war culminating in the performance of the “final” battle scenes. Until then, contemporary street clothes have been replaced with 18th-century style costumes – an illusion of long-restored art.

“We wanted to ignite the return of this living, breathing art form with a sense of joy and hope and healing.” Listeners really need laughter and catharsis, “he said in an interview.

The San Francisco Opera also needs this. In 2022–23, with its centenary year fasting, the company is trying to write at its breakneck pace the most dramatic crisis and comeback chapter of its history.

The loss has been brutal. The epidemic has closed to arts organizations around the world, but San Francisco has been shut down for the most part. Due to the structure of its season, which divides its calendar into fall and spring-summer segments, its last in-person performance was in December 2019.

This enforced silence has come at great cost: eight productions had to be canceled, wiping out $ 7.5 million in ticket revenue. The company, already reeling from losses before the epidemic, has had to invest about $ 20 million in its budget cuts of about $ 70 million. In September, its orchestra agreed with a new contract What do the musicians say “Catastrophic” reductions in compensation.

“We felt that achieving live performance was so important,” said the company’s general director, Matthew Shilwalk. “Such hunger in the community, there is a need for it.”

Like opera companies in Detroit, In Chicago, Memphis, New York and elsewhere, is a retro precursor to the return of San Francisco: Drive-In. “The Barber of Seville” is being presented at an open-air stage at the Marin Center in San Rafael. Audience members can opt for premium “seats” in their cars, with a head-on view of the stage, or for the neighboring area – for a total capacity of about 400 cars.

The logistic required to close it has become complex – not only in favor of an unpublished location, but based on the Kovid Protocol, which has been one of the strictest in the country in the Bay Area. The company has followed a rigorous diet of testing and masking; Wind players have used specially designed masks, and in the rehearsal the singers have performed dr. Sanziana wore a mask developed by Roman, an opera singer became an endocrine surgeon. Even during the performance, cast members must be at least eight and a half feet away from each other – 15 feet if someone else is to sing directly.

Shilwalk realized in December that it might be possible to bring live opera around the time of “Barber”, the company’s originally planned April production, but only if he could “overcome as many uncertainties as possible.” The idea of ​​a drive-in presentation began to take shape. But it also means designing and conceptualizing the company’s in-house production and staging the brand new in just a few months.

A village of tents at the back of the stage is required to show the basic facilities and staff. A tent serves as an orchestra pit, where conductor Roderick Cox, beginning his company, leads a low ensemble of 18 players. Cox noted an additional layer of challenge in the absence of audible responses from the audience – wearing masks – along with adapting to using video screens to communicate with singers.

“I have to revisit some of my temperament and how to maintain that enthusiasm,” he said. “To know when to press the gas a little more.”

The sound of the orchestra is mixed with the singers and broadcast as an FM signal on each car’s radio. “Across a huge parking lot, rather than the sound coming through a large speaker cluster,” Shilwalk said, “It comes directly from the stage and from the orchestra tent to your vehicle.”

A sense of drive-in populism – in keeping with the comfort and attention span of automobile-bound listeners – resulted from the decision to introduce a streamlined, time-lapse, English-language “barber” about 100 minutes long. All are cut along with the chorus.

Alexander V. as a replica of the familiar War Memorial Opera House exterior of the theater and its dressing room. Decorated as part of a two-tiered set of Nichols. Ozwa’s staging is taken as a poignant underlying theme, a transition to live performance: singers must, at times with mocking self-consciousness, negotiate a maze of distant precautions, but soon As well as being able to return to the much-missed theaters with a feeling of hope.

Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, who starred as Rosina, finally spoke in an interview of the cathartic effect of being “able to perform for real people, performing for that relationship with the audience”. Tenor Alec Schrader, her lover at the opera and her husband in real life, said she felt “a combination of melancholy and excitement for the time to come.”

For all the novelty of the production, there was something reassuring about the family ease with which the actors interacted. Mack and Schrader are reprising the roles they previously played in San Francisco opposite Lucas Makem’s charismatic Figaro. And housekeeper Berta, sympathetic to Catherine Cook, is a “barber” fixture at the company since the 1990s. All four, as well as Philip Skinner (Dr. Bartolo) and Kenneth Kellogg (Don Basilio), emerged from the San Francisco Adler Fellowship Young Artists Program.

Shilwalk said the production cost for the “barber” was equal to the amount the company had already spent for the 2021 summer season, which he had planned in advance – but the construction of the temporary site and Kovid restrictions cost $ 2 and $ in additional costs. Between 3 million was added.

Still, Shilwalk said it’s worth it – and upon opening on the night of 23 April, he was greeted with a stunning Chorus of Honor on screen. Shilwalk said that about a third of “barber” ticket buyers were new to the company.

“I’m not seeing it as a band-aid in any way, to get us to the point where we get back to normal,” he said. “Rather, I see it as a sign of something new in our future. It is generating energy for people who may never have given us an idea for the opera.”

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