Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges is among the singers featured in San Francisco Opera’s spring season “In Song” series. (Courtesy Ras Dia/San Francisco Opera)

Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges is among the singers featured in San Francisco Opera’s spring season “In Song” series. (Courtesy Ras Dia/San Francisco Opera)

San Francisco Opera sings live at the drive-in

New ‘Barber of Seville’ in Marin accompanies virtual ‘Ring’ reprise and intimate portraits

San Francisco Opera is going to the drive-in this spring, mounting a new live production of “The Barber of Seville” to be presented to audiences in vehicles at Marin Center in San Rafael in April and May.

From April 23 to May 15, the company will stage 11 performances of a 90-minute version (no intermission) of Rossini’s popular comedy adapted by American director Matthew Ozawa and presented in an English translation by Marcie Stapp.

Announcing the troupe’s revised spring 2021 programming on Tuesday, San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock said, “There is an incredible reawakening of the arts ahead of us. As the pandemic recedes, we need that visceral energy of live performance — artists and audiences connected in magical moments of emotive expression — more than ever. “

The spring season also includes live performances, also in Marin, of Adler Fellow singers, as well as a “Ring” Festival with streams of the troupe’s 2018 performances of Wagner’s epic. There also will be new online performances, portraits and podcasts.

Opera officials noted that the resumption of live presentations is being done with safety protocols in place, with collaboration from doctors and health professionals from University of California, San Francisco as well as Marin County public health officers.

Action in the new “The Barber of Seville” will take place on a revamped version of the set originally intended for San Francisco Opera’s new production of Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” which was postponed due to the pandemic.

“After such a lengthy period of hibernation, our drive-in ‘Barber of Seville’ is a chance to bring what we love back to life while reawakening our resilient creativity. Coming at a time when audiences need laughter and true catharsis, we pull back the curtain to reveal San Francisco Opera’s backstage world of dressing rooms, divas and divine escapades. Our goal is to breathe life back into live grand operatic performance and connect with joy, liberation and love,” said Ozawa.

Conceived by designer Alexander V. Nichols, “The Barber of Seville’s” set and videos depict the War Memorial Opera House’s backstage and the production features costumes by Jessica Jahn and lighting for the open-air production by JAX Messenger.

Conductor Roderick Cox will lead a socially distanced ensemble of San Francisco Opera Orchestra musicians in a production with no chorus. The cast includes baritone Lucas Meachem as Figaro, mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack (alternating with Laura Krumm) as Rosina, tenor Alek Shrader as Almaviva, bass Philip Skinner as Dr. Bartolo, bass Kenneth Kellogg as Don Basilio and mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook as Berta.

Audiences have two choices for viewing the drive-in performances. Tickets are $250 per vehicle for the fairgrounds view of the set and performers. For $50 per car, the lagoon offers ticketholders a live simulcast to a drive-in movie screen. Tickets must be purchased in advance for the performances, which will go on rain or shine.

The viewing setup also will be in place for “The Adlers: Live at the Drive-In” on April 29, May 6 and May 13. The 70-minute concert of operatic favorites will feature sopranos Anne-Marie MacIntosh, Elisa Sunshine and Esther Tonea; mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh; tenors Zhengyi Bai, Christopher Colmenero and Christopher Oglesby; baritone Timothy Murray; bass Stefan Egerstrom and pianists Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad and Andrew King. Tickets are $150 (fairground) and $50 (lagoon).

Among SFO’s 2021 free digital events are “In Song,” a series of short video portraits showcasing Egyptian-born, New Zealand soprano Amina Edris, American mezzo-sopranos Jamie Barton and J’Nai Bridges, and Samoan-born, New Zealand tenor Pene Pati singing popular as well as classical styles.

Meanwhile, in “Atrium Sessons” debuting in April, the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater in the War Memorial complex provides the intimate setting for videos of music by Debussy, Clara Schumann, Florence Price, Noël Coward and Gabriela Lena Frank sung by Bay Area artists including soprano Rhoslyn Jones, mezzo-soprano Laura Krumm, baritones Edward Nelson and Efraín Solís and bass-baritone Michael Sumuel, all graduates of San Francisco Opera Center training programs.

And “North Stage Door” is a 45-minute podcast that takes listeners behind the scenes of San Francisco Opera, offering information from musicians, composers, singers, designers and crafts people. The first episode will cover the process of creating the drive-in version of “The Barber of Seville.”

The virtual “Ring Festival” streams from March 5-30, featuring Francesca Zambello’s 15-hour 2018 SFO production with music director Donald Runnicles conducting the orchestra, Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde, Greer Grimsely as Wotan, Daniel Brenna as Siegfried, Brandon Jovanovich as Froh and Siegmund, Karita Mattila as Sieglinde, Falk Struckmann as Alberich and Jamie Barton as Fricka.

A festival opening for subscribers and pass holders features Zambello, Runnicles, Shilvock and others in an interactive discussion and a Wagner quiz; while additional festival Zoom events include talks with performers, scholars and critics. “Ring” passes range from $69 to $144, with some free admission for high school or college students; requests should be sent to patronservices@sfopera.com from the school e-mail address.

Looking ahead, Shilvock said, “I have so much optimism for the future, not only the immediate return of opera but for where we go next. As we welcome Eun Sun Kim as music director, we look towards our centennial in 2022–23 and to our second century. This is an inflection point where we expand and diversify our art and our audience, reconnecting our amazing Bay Area community to the vital storytelling power of opera. Simply put, we want to be more to more people. I look forward to a future marked by experimentation and innovation. The new directions of our spring programming are just the beginning.”

For tickets and information, visit sfopera.com or call (415) 864-3330.

Classical Music

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