SFOpera - Backstage with Matthew: The Return of Live Opera

Backstage with Matthew: The Return of Live Opera

Dear Members of the San Francisco Opera Family,

Extraordinary things are happing at the Marin Center as we prepare to bring to life our LIVE production of The Barber of Seville! Every day propels us forward in major ways, and the whole production is taking shape at a breathtaking pace in advance of our opening on April 23.

Each Sunday this month, I'll share a selection of images and stories from the Marin Center to give you a sense of what is emerging. (And be sure to follow SF Opera on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as my Instagram feed for daily updates too!)  This is a thrilling time for San Francisco Opera as we enter back into the production process with all cylinders firing, making opera at a grand scale to share with you in just a few weeks. If you've not yet secured your tickets for The Barber of Seville, please do so soon!

Here's a glimpse of where we were on Wednesday, March 31st, just to give you a sense of the scale of this undertaking. This is the base of the stage that we are building in Marin—it is comparable to our own stage at the Opera House in size! What a stunning venue this is, just off the highway in San Rafael.

This is the base of the stage we are building in Marin
Photo courtesy Tony Taubert

Every aspect of our work in Marin has been planned with such exquisite precision in record-breaking time: safety protocols, site planning, technical planning, the musical version, the rehearsal process, artist arrivals and quarantines, contracting and permits, and on and on. Following guidance from our group of doctors from UCSF headed by Dr. George Rutherford, we are operating on a zoned system (much like the film industry), and you must be in a certain testing cadence to be in certain zones (even if vaccinated). Our Rehearsal Department is overseeing all of the testing and things are working seamlessly. To date we've conducted over 700 tests and we're only just beginning rehearsals!

We are operating on a zoned system (much like the film industry)

Marin Venturi and Trey Costerisan in our Rehearsal Department overseeing the check-in station where people must enter before going into the work areas. Plus, examples of the signage that defines every space for capacity and usage.

Different functions of the Opera have dedicated tents and one of the largest of these is the orchestra tent, which is 80 feet by 40 feet. This is the size we need to accommodate the 18-piece orchestra on a socially distanced basis. Work began setting up the tents in Marin on Thursday, March 25th, and within days the site was taking shape. You can see here the progression of the orchestra tent from a flat wooden floor through to a roof and carpet, and then finally the orchestra set-up. The walls of the tents are either permeable or fully open to allow for increased airflow. You can see in the bottom photo the shields that are being used to isolate the wind and brass players in the orchestra. I can't wait to start rehearsals with the orchestra on Tuesday!

The "festival stage" which is 120ft wide and will house half of the Fidelio cube set that we built last fall.

The main structure being erected at the moment is the "festival stage" which is 120ft wide and will house half of the Fidelio cube set that we built last fall. This is the stage that you will see when you are watching the performance and will include all of the video technology that is so integral to the production design. I love this photo that our Production Manager Ryan O'Steen took showing the fleet of semi-trucks that brought the festival stage to us a week ago.

The festival stage being erected against the stunning backdrop of the Marin hills

You can see below the festival stage being erected against the stunning backdrop of the Marin hills, the pinnacle of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings peeking up above the horizon in the top photo. In the lower photo you can see the stage roof sitting flush on the stage deck. The next step will be to bring in the cranes to hoist the roof and build the walls. By the time you're reading this, we will be loading in the "cube" set!

By the time you're reading this, we will be loading in the "cube" set!

This is what's been happening outdoors, but there is also a whole world of activity happening indoors in the Marin Auditorium, which is functioning as a rehearsal space for us over the course of the next few weeks while we prepare the outdoor venues.

The production calls for a host of props from prior San Francisco Opera shows—the idea being that our singers are uncovering what it means to create live opera as we emerge from the pandemic. In the production, they will be lifting dust covers on the backstage of the opera house and finding all manner of things with which to create art. You can see here director Matthew Ozawa and designer Alex Nichols exploring the array of props that Props Master Lori Harrison and her crew have brought up from the Opera House (including some items from the old Nikolaus Lehnhoff Ring that we had on stage from 1985-1999— you might recognize the head and the hand).

The production calls for a host of props from prior San Francisco Opera shows — you might recognize the head and the hand

On Tuesday, March 30, something very, very special happened. We began our first music rehearsals in Marin. As you may have heard me say before, we have not been able to have even a singer and a pianist together in the same room in San Francisco. We have gone for over a year without hearing the energy of live music being made in ensemble. Today that changed.

We welcomed to the rehearsal stage in Marin seven singers, as well as covers and pianists, along with our debuting maestro, Roderick Cox, for a musical read-through of The Barber of Seville. A number of singers are still in quarantine so not everyone could be with us, but with our incredible Adler Fellows covering where needed, we had a full cast. I cannot even begin to describe how moving it was to hear the finale of act I, sung by seven of our singers, accompanied by piano.

Live music came back to life today, and it was glorious.

The singers are all wearing their singer masks as designed by Dr. Sânziana Roman and our Costume Shop at the Opera. You can see the rehearsal scenery in the photos below, mimicking the separated spaces that will be on the actual set. Every single person in that space was stunned to see a real rehearsal room, with real scenery, and real music-making. I don’t know if you've had that experience when you've seen someone every day on Zoom for a year, and then you finally see them in person. One the one hand, it first it feels completely normal, and then it hits you that this is the first time you've actually seen the person physically. That was like today in the rehearsal room. It was at once the most familiar, natural place, and then it hit you with an overwhelming emotion that you were seeing it new for the first time. Many of us were in tears as we heard the music come to life in this space.

We were back home.

On Tuesday, March 30, we began our first music rehearsals in Marin.

There will be so much more to share in the days and weeks ahead as we bring all of the elements back to life at the Marin Center. Everyone at the Opera is working around the clock to make this possible and everyone is overjoyed to be doing so. We are so excited to welcome you to Marin and to share this life-changing moment with you. I hope that you will join us—buy your tickets today and encourage your friends to join you. This is a unique, history-defining event—your first chance to experience a fully produced opera in person—sharing in a live artistic experience with both artists and fellow opera lovers.  

Thank you for believing in the vital importance of live theater, of live music, of live opera. It is a privilege to be creating once again for you.

With warmest wishes.
 


Photos courtesy of Jen Good, Erik Walstad, and Matthew Shilvock unless otherwise noted.

 

Backstage with Matthew: The Return of Live Opera: Part 2
Backstage with Matthew: A Safe and Stylish Return to Live Opera