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San Diego Opera Stages Drive-In 'La Bohème'

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Live opera is back but with a twist. San Diego Opera will be staging "La Bohème" in the parking lot of Pechanga Arena San Diego next week. Here's what you can expect.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Live opera is back, but with a twist, San Diego opera will be staging Labo M in the parking lot of the Pachanga arena, San Diego next week, KPBS arts reporter Beth Armando speaks with the operas director. Could touristic end about how COVID and an outdoor venue are changing the production

Speaker 2: 00:20 Katurah. So this opera season is going to be very strange because of COVID and San Diego opera has come up with a means of putting on a production this year, which is going to be outdoors. So talk about the particular challenges.

Speaker 3: 00:38 Yeah, the outdoor challenge, which I know is very new for San Diego opera is not particularly new for me as a director. So I wasn't worried about that as much. I just, my checklist had to change in terms of what I was asking, but the bigger challenge has come with with the, the, the onstage COVID protocol, more, one of the biggest ones being that each singer needs 120 square feet of their own, wherever they are on stage, meaning that they cannot be any closer than 15 feet from the person that they are singing towards and no closer than four feet on either side. That challenge changed the entire way that I, that I had to think about the piece that I was putting together. So that that's actually been the bigger one. There's other things in terms of social distancing between me and my assistant and between me and the lighting designer. Whereas in a lot of times in tech rehearsals, I'll be able to come up and whisper in somebody's ear, a note or something that we can change on the fly. We just, aren't going to have that ability and we'll be on walkie talkies, but that sort of close contact that is so integral to putting a piece together quickly is just not something that's going to be available to us. And so we've had to really rethink how we communicate with each other in this tight schedule.

Speaker 2: 02:02 You mentioned you've worked in outdoor spaces before, but is this the first drive in opera you've done.

Speaker 3: 02:07 It is the first drive in opera. Yes. You know, I know there've been a couple of other companies around the world right now. Who've been experimenting a little bit with derive in opera and, and, uh, it feels really exciting to be one of those, maybe three companies, you know, and I, I just think there's something so fascinating about, um, about the, the idea that a, we can do live performance, which is something that so many of us in the business were just afraid was gonna take so long to get back. But also just, I think every time you watch a show from a different perspective, it changes the way you see the show. And I, what I'm really excited about is just what the storytelling feels like in this type of venue. Yeah. It's a first, it's an absolute first for me and for all of us on stage and for all of us backstage too,

Speaker 2: 02:52 With these new COVID restrictions in terms of how close people can be, this particular opera would seem to be a challenge because there are a lot of moving parts and people on stage all the time. So how did you go about tackling that?

Speaker 3: 03:08 A couple of things. One is we needed to get the opera down, so that to a, an amount of time that could be done in one sitting so that people weren't trying to deal with intermission and that there weren't as many people who were needing to use the bathroom facilities for instance. So we've gotten it down to, uh, I believe right now we think it's at 86 minutes. Uh, we'll, we'll get into music rehearsals and we'll know a little more about that. But 86 minutes means that we had to cut the chorus. Then the chorus going away was sad, but necessary both from a spacing point of view, we do not have space for 120 square feet for every chorus member. It's just, that's just impossible. But also just it's the easiest way to get the timing down to a point where we're simply looking at the experiential moments of these characters all put together. And, and I think actually as much as I miss the core sequences, I missed the act to craze that happens at the beginning. There's something about really honing in on these intimate moments between characters that I think is going to allow both us as performers and the creative team and the audience to take a deeper look at each of these people, uh, as, as their stories told. So that's been sort of an exciting silver lining in, in putting this piece together the way we've had to do it.

Speaker 2: 04:26 Yeah. I was going to ask if having the combination of having to rethink it in terms of how you produce it and stage it, but also, you know, rethinking it from the point of view that you've been in quarantine. We have a pandemic, there's all this stuff going on. I'm wondering if you found new layers or different themes that popped for you more this time.

Speaker 3: 04:47 Yeah, definitely. I, you know, the storytelling itself has changed. The story is the same, but this is a piece that is about loss and it is about missing somebody or just the possibility of missing somebody. And I found it so poetic that we as performers, the performers all have to be in these little pods. They have to be 120 square feet of space around them. They're protected from each other. They can't get anywhere near each other. And I feel like we're all sort of like that right now. We were all unable to touch our loved ones, unable to hug each other, unable to get close. And so there is a mirroring that's happening and I've actually taken the story in that direction. I, uh, I decided in thinking about it, that, that instead of trying to pretend like we're doing it normally, Labo M was originally a series of short stories written by a man named non-REM measure.

Speaker 3: 05:41 And he, he actually wrote him. It's a lot, there's a lot of autobiography in it. And he wrote himself as, as Rudolf, uh, who is Rudolph. So of course in the opera. So I actually have Rudolfo, we're setting it in his study 10 years after the death, me, me, he's writing these stories and because of the nature of memory, which I love, I love this moment that you can dive so deeply into a memory and hear everything and smell things and feel things, but you can't actually touch what happened, it's it doesn't exist anymore. And so I'm allowing these people who came through his life to appear and disappear as the memories, as fragments, as the memories sort of course through him, but he's in his study, reliving this and, and Mimi, because she is conceivably, the only one who has passed away, Mimi is both a memory and also ghost.

Speaker 3: 06:37 And so she can exist in real time in his space. It became this whole give and take about how do we deal with memories that are so deep and so hard to process on a certain level. When we think about the death of someone that we love very much, that there's a certain amount of moving through and letting go that has to happen. And sometimes we need permission from are the ghosts of our past and from our memories to move forward. And I feel like when I started reading the text, that so much of it is about working through this trauma and guilt that he feels for how he was dealing with me, me at the time and not being able to really, truly accept her illness. And I just thought, what if Mimi could be there and could tell him, you know, it's okay and, and allow him to release her. And so we're playing with a whole different idea of his storytelling. It's the same story. We will see the same wild histrionics, the same characters, but from being conjured from a man who is looking back on a time that was both joyous and troubling for him in his past. All right. Well, I want to thank you very much, and I am looking forward to this drive in version of [inaudible]. Thank you so much. It's great to talk to you.

Speaker 4: 08:05 [inaudible]

Speaker 3: 08:06 That was Beth Huck. Amando speaking with Labo M director couture, a stick in San Diego opera's drive in production of Labo. M starts October 24th.

Speaker 4: 10:01 [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.