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San Diego Opera Returns To The Drive-In

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The ability to hold in-person events is rapidly moving forward but San Diego Opera has a long lead time for planning its events. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with the opera's general director David Bennett about what these changes mean for the company and about its events scheduled for the end of this month.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The ability to hold in-person events is rapidly moving forward, but San Diego opera has a long lead time for planning its events, KPBS arts reporter, Beth Huck. Amando speaks with the operas general director, David Bennett, about what these changes mean for the company and about its events scheduled for the end of this month,

Speaker 2: 00:21 David things are changing rapidly right now in terms of what organizations can do in terms of in-person events. So how are these changes impacting the opera right now?

Speaker 3: 00:33 Well, you know, opera has a bit of a long time horizon. So, you know, booking artists and everything, we have to plan fairly far into the future. You know, what we have starting today with rehearsals was planned quite a while ago, but you're right. Things are changing. So what it's making us do is look at next season with a more clearer open eye. Let's put it that way, and we already have some plans in place for what we want to do for next season. We just had our budget approved by the board, finalizing casting for all of that. We will be returning to theaters next season when we actually make a step back into side inside of a theater may change a little bit based upon the recent changes. And also more importantly, how many people are allowed back in theaters. That's the real big unknown, but things that are looking hopeful now, right?

Speaker 3: 01:18 There was a directive from the governor just last week about how live performances are really they're now allowed even at, in where we are right now, which is the red tier. There are performances that are permittable, albeit with a very, very small audience. And that's the question, you know, how does it really work out in terms of a business proposition to be able to take on the expenses of producing opera? And where's the moment where we can do that with a lower number of audience members that we can allow. So that's the big unknown, but we're looking, it's looking hopeful.

Speaker 2: 01:51 Well, some of these new restrictions, is it also going to be complicated in terms of there may be the vaccinated audience versus the unvaccinated audience, and then how much responsibility is it going to be on your organization to monitor all this?

Speaker 3: 02:06 Yeah, it's a really good question because that was clearly part of the directive that was released last week is that there is under the guidelines that they are there now stating there is a larger number of an audience that will be allowed if you can prove vaccination as well as negative tests within seven days prior to the performance now will that change? Who knows, but that's the directive right now. And, you know, we don't quite know the answer who's going to be responsible for that. We'll have venue. You know, we don't own any of our venues. Is it a combination of the venue and the producer like us as the opera, will there be legal challenges to that? Does that put a responsibility on us that we really shouldn't be placed in that role? Who knows anyway, but the encouraging news is that it's all being dealt with right now. And it looks like there are some answers coming.

Speaker 2: 02:56 Yeah. It seems like an awful lot of responsibility may be placed on venues and organizations. And then, you know, do you have to check, are those vaccine cards forged? Are they real? The person who, who actually got vaccinated holding the car,

Speaker 3: 03:12 Right. I mean, you know, there, there's a lot of national talk about pros and cons of, you know, some kind of passport, um, whether that will be something that will actually happen, whether there'll be any kind of an electronic system that we have, or we show it on our phones. We do know before COVID, there was already a discussion about having increased security being required at our venues. So I think now there'll be just general security folded into some kind of COVID testing security protocols. Yep. All yet to be determined, but the fact that it's moving forward in the conversation now, sooner than I'd anticipated it happening is good news for us.

Speaker 2: 03:49 But you do have some events currently planned that are almost in-person, you're doing drive in opera and concert. First talk a little bit about the concert and how this is has been conceived and what it's actually going to be for an audience.

Speaker 3: 04:04 Sure. So, you know, we've had for the past four or five years, a concert that we call one amazing night and we call it that because it is only one performance and it always is amazing. So we're using that concept, but we're, instead of featuring a guest artist were featuring members of our chorus along with some local talents and wonderful local singing actors that are not usually performers with the opera. And the subtitle of one amazing night is when I see your face again, which you know, is the world, we're all living in, hidden behind our masks. And the point of that title is we're selecting music that has been inspired by or composed in reaction to moments of pandemic ranging from the Renaissance period, all the way up to post AIDS crisis, and a variety of music that features choral ensembles, but also individuals solo singers, opera, choruses, Renaissance, choral music, um, music from the Baroque period, individual Arias music theater spoken word. And we have three local artists that I think are talent that our audiences really going to enjoy seeing Angelina Rio, also Alison Spratt Pearce. Who's a very well-known music theater singer and James Newcomb. And the three of them are joining members of our course. And also of course, the musicians of the San Diego symphony.

Speaker 2: 05:25 And then you also have something to really lift our spirits, which is barber of Seville. And that is going to be another drive in opera. And you've, this is going to be your second one. So how do you feel going into a second one? Have you learned a lot?

Speaker 3: 05:39 Yeah, actually the first thing I learned was to make sure I hired the same director because she was so brilliant in Bo em, so we brought her back for this barber of Seville and, you know, directing an opera for a driving audience and also meeting the spacing requirements that we have to abide by to keep this self, the health and safety of our performers is not an easy thing. And Katurah did a great job in both. I'm still told the story very clearly she'll do the same with barber, but one big learning that point that we had, which was a surprise to me was that really, we were able to create a sense of intimacy inside of this very big experience. And the reason why is the audience is still inside of their cars, right? So you have really high quality audio coming through the FM radio system mixed beautifully.

Speaker 3: 06:26 And then what mostly you're seeing, yes, you see the performers on the stage, but there are eight very large screens around the area where the audience is parked and you see closeups of the artists. So you have this sense of intimacy that you really are not able to achieve inside of the civic theater, which was a great surprise. And people really enjoyed that. And also the opportunity to actually comment to the people in your cars. It's okay to talk a little bit, right. So it came to sing along as far as I'm concerned, if you have your windows rolled up. So yeah, there's a lot of interesting things to recreate in this barber that we did in our bedroom.

Speaker 4: 07:01 You're a stickin directed Labo, em, and found an innovative way to recreate that for a drive. And so what is she doing for Barbara?

Speaker 3: 07:10 Well, we were taking a cue from the costumes that we're using from this production, which was set in the late sixties, early seventies. And so if we think of that world cutter, Katurah just told the cast in a meeting that we had earlier to sort of think of television during that era. And if we think of that, the strongest television moment she talked about was Laugh-In particularly the, um, cocktail hour and laughing. So I think that world also the world of, uh, the Beatles movies of the monkeys, zany, lots of dancing, lots of color and funny, and you know, barber of Seville is a comedy at its heart. And so if it's not funny, it's not fun. So this is going to be a funny fun zany.

Speaker 4: 07:52 Hello for Barbara. All right. I want to thank you very much for talking about the latest updates on San Diego opera. It's my pleasure. Thank you very much. That was Beth Huck. Amando speaking with San Diego operas. David Bennett. The barber of Seville starts April 25th and one amazing night takes place on April 24th. [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.