Thanks to the pandemic, it has been a full year since San Diego Opera has enjoyed the luxury of presenting opera at the San Diego Civic Theatre—or any other theater, for that matter. But David Bennett, the company’s creative General Director, has successfully created drive-in opera presentations that give the San Diego opera public live performance experienced in the safety of their own vehicles.
Last October, the company staged a well-received drive-in production of Puccini’s La bohème in the Midway District’s Pechanga Arena parking lot, followed in December by a screening at the Del Mar Fairgrounds lot of the company’s 2018 production of All Is Calm—the Christmas Truce of 1914 presented with a live concert of vocal soloists selected from the San Diego Opera Chorus.Based on the favorable reception of these two drive-in events, San Diego Opera again returns to the Pechanga Arena lot on April 24 and 25 with two different performances: a staged production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and One Amazing Night, a concert featuring vocal soloists from the San Diego Opera Chorus accompanied by the San Diego Symphony. The Rossini comic opera opens on April 25, and will repeat April 27, 30 and May 1. One Amazing Night will presented just on April 24.
“We had all the singers of The Barber of Seville contracted for a production last spring,” Bennett explained in a phone conversation. “It is a really stellar cast, and I wanted to preserve it, so this opera seemed like the best choice for a drive-in production. We learned so much from our La bohème production, and because the chorus for this opera is small—just 16 men—with caution and careful planning we can safely use them on the stage.”
To direct this Rossini production, Bennett has again turned to Ketura Stickann, whose sleek direction of the drive-in La bohème and her adroit concept of that opera as a socially distanced memory play contributed so greatly to its success.
“We are still working on the concept of this Rossini production,” Bennett explained, “and I don’t want to give too much of it away at this time, but it will play up the world of the drive in movie theater.”
The cast of San Diego Opera’s The Barber of Seville features the company debut of baritone David Pershall as Figaro and the return of mezzo-soprano Emily Fons as Rosina. Fons’ most recent San Diego Opera triumph was Cherubino in the company’s 2018 production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Also returning is bass-baritone Partick Carfizzi as Doctor Bartolo; Carfizzi impressed San Diego Opera audiences as Major-General Stanley in the company’s 2017 production of The Pirates of Penzance.
Also new to the company are tenor Carlos Enrique Santellias as Count Almaviva; bass Peixin Chenas Don Basilio, and mezzo-soprano Alexandra Rodrickas Berta. San Diego Opera’s Chorus Master and Music Administrator Bruce Stasyna will conduct, having most recently appeared as the pianist-director of December’s drive-in holiday choral concert at the Del Mar Fairground.
In past season seasons, the company’s One Amazing Night concerts have typically featured noted soloists who have appeared in Civic Theatre productions, singers such as Piotr Beczeła, Patricia Racette, and Stephen Costello.
“I chose to feature singers from our own chorus [for One Amazing Night] because the San Diego Opera Chorus is a great asset,” Bennett explained, “and the limitations of the pandemic have prevented us from giving them much work.
“We are calling this concert When I See Your Face Again, focusing on the music that flourished in post-pandemic times. So there will be music from the 1920s that followed the Spanish Flu epidemic and more current music that came after the AIDS crisis of the 1980s,” Bennett said. “Bruce Stasyna and Alan Hicks are currently developing this concept.” Hicks provided the stage direction for San Diego Opera’s 2019 Aïda production at Civic Theatre.