SFOpera - Backstage with Matthew: The Return of Live Opera: Part 2

Backstage with Matthew: The Return of Live Opera: Part 2

Dear Members of the San Francisco Opera Family,

Rehearsal weeks are always packed with activity as the elements of opera all come together in beautiful harmony. But as we prepare our new Barber of Seville production—the return of live opera to the Bay Area—I find myself pausing amidst the swirl of activity to reflect on "first times back." Moments when something happens for the first time in 16 months (like an orchestra rehearsal!), or you see someone in person for the first time in a year that you've only seen on Zoom, or you feel anew the energy of the creative process. These moments feel at once both familiar and completely unique: they are the unlocking of the creative energy of the Company and there is a lot of creative energy to unlock!

From April 23-May 15, we will be sharing this all with you, our audiences, and I can't wait for you to feel a part of this positive energy! If you've not yet secured your tickets, I encourage you to do so soon by clicking here, and encourage friends and family to join you.

Marin Center - The stage comes to life with video walls and live-close ups of the orchestra!
The stage comes to life with video walls and live-close ups of the orchestra!

Since last week, the stage has transformed from a platform with a roof waiting to be hoisted up, to a fully-fledged theatrical stage, replete with set and video walls. The roof was hoisted using motors and pulleys, and for a day or so you could see straight through to the beautiful Marin hills! But then we added the side panels, as well as lighting and video equipment rigged on trusses.

You can see four long video screens which will be an integral part of the production

In the bottom two photos you can see four long video screens which will be an integral part of the production. They will track on and off stage (moving left to right) and will be able to make one large screen or four separate screens, creating different playing areas on the set. The two large video screens left and right will be image magnification screens so that you can see close-ups of the performers, similar to OperaVision.

Managing Director: Production, Jen Good and Production Manager Ryan O’Steen.
Touring the stage before the roof is hoisted, with Managing Director: Production, Jen Good and Production Manager Ryan O’Steen.

Talking of "first times back," a huge first time back was the return of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, after 16 months without being able to play together. We have an orchestra of 18 musicians, including five wind and brass players (a first for the Bay Area post-pandemic I believe), and it was a pinch-me moment when they started playing! All of the promise of collaborative music-making came sweeping back, and the outdoor space at the Marin Center was filled with life and beauty.

The Orchestra is set up in a dedicated tent just behind the stage

The Orchestra is set up in a dedicated tent just behind the stage and will be connected to the singers onstage via live relay. The music from the stage and orchestra tent will be mixed together and sent to your car FM system where you can enjoy the intimacy of the sound. Although the Orchestra is reduced (to allow for necessary social distancing), the sound was full and glorious, and it was a moment I will never forget.

Clear panels that separate the wind players from the strings and percussion.

As you can see in these photos, we have clear panels that separate the wind players from the strings and percussion. We are also using specially designed wind masks that limited aerosol dispersion (also designed by Dr. Sânziana Roman from UCSF and the SF Opera Costume Shop). Our production teams have been trying to find just the right material for the clear shields to give safe protection but also be see-through. The thicker plastic you see on the side shields was too hard to see through, but our Technical and Safety Director Erik Walstad had a "eureka" moment. He nipped over to the Ace Hardware and returned with boxes of shrink-wrap window coverings. They worked perfectly and you can see from the clarity in front of co-principal French Horn, Kevin Rivard, just how clear it is!

We're so happy to have with us debuting conductor Roderick Cox. Roderick was due to make his debut with us in Barber this year, and with the Metropolitan Opera in the same opera. He has been Associate Conductor with the Minnesota Orchestra for three years, and pre-pandemic was debuting at the LA Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, and Cleveland Orchestra to name just a few. Here's Roderick pictured outside the main stage!

Roderick Cox

Rehearsals are going very smoothly under director Matthew Ozawa, and the team is powering through ensembles and arias, overtures and finales! This week Lucas Meachem, Daniela Mack, and Alek Shrader arrive after their quarantine, and we are looking forward to welcoming them. Every action has to be kept socially distanced and Matthew Ozawa is doing an extraordinary job creating energy and togetherness within these parameters. The singer masks are allowing us to be in rehearsal together but will be removed once we get into performances.

Piece by piece, an outdoor theater is being built, musicians are reconnecting, and singers are creating a story that tells of the return of opera

The ingenuity of what is coming to life is amazing. Piece by piece, an outdoor theater is being built, musicians are reconnecting, and singers are creating a story that tells of the return of opera. Soon, we will add in the audience and opera will be reborn! I so look forward to sharing it with you.

The opera will be reborn.

One of the many safety signs that designate where various members of the Company can go on site.

One of the many safety signs that designate where various members of the Company can go on site.

With warmest wishes,
Matthew

Backstage with Matthew: The Return of Live Opera: Part 3
Backstage with Matthew: The Return of Live Opera