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Opera, Symphony Partner For Drive-In Event

The San Diego Opera, which produces three grand operas per year during normal times, hasn’t played a revenue-producing concert since mid-March.

That is about to change.

In partnership with The San Diego Symphony Orchestra, the Opera is taking its upcoming production of “La Boheme”, originally slated for the San Diego Civic Theatre, to the Pechanga Arena parking lot.

Held Oct. 24, 27 and 30 and Nov. 1, the drive-in event is projected to draw between 500 and 800 vehicles per night, for a total of 2,000 tickets sold. Cost is $200 for general admission and $300 for VIP. The entire production will cost a little over $1 million, which is slightly less than the roughly $1.5M most opera productions cost.

Communal Experience

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David Bennett, general director of the San Diego Opera, said he was inspired to turn the production into a drive-in affair after seeing a smaller drive-in show by San Diego’s youth orchestra, Mainly Mozart, this past summer.

“It made me realize it was a good model for us to approach with the opera, albeit on a much larger scale,” he said. “What I was struck by was this missing opportunity for live entertainment, which was wonderful to see again. But also, the opportunity to have a communal experience as people have spent more time at home these days since the pandemic. Even though we are separated by cars, you look at the car next to you and on the other side of you and you know you are sharing this night with other members of the community.”

Safety Plans

The parking lot version of “La Boheme” will include eight solo singers and an orchestra of 25 performers on a 44.5-foot by 64-foot stage, which is much larger than the standard for social distancing purposes. Bennett said he worked with the San Diego County Department of Health on the creation and for the approval of the safety plans. This includes providing 120 square feet of space per singer, string players being separated by six feet and brass and woodwind players by 12 feet. The Opera is also currently working on obtaining plexiglass separators to put up between the latter groups.

Everyone involved in the production will be tested for COVID-19, said Bennett. All staff members will be required to wear masks at all times, except for those that require the use of their mouths to play an instrument, and all practices will take place outdoors, he said. Singers will wear special masks that allow enough room for their voices to carry, he added.

Support Musicians

Martha Gilmer, CEO of The San Diego Symphony Orchestra, which typically performs over 130 concerts a year, said it was important to figure out creative ways to support its musicians and staff while keeping them safe.

“What’s foremost important is supporting our musicians and administrative staff to the best of our ability while protecting their health and safety,” she said, “while continuing to connect with all aspects of the San Diego community and serve as a resource to people that, at this time, are so hungry to hear live music.”

By moving the production outdoors and keeping the audience inside their cars, it provides a much safer environment, said Bennett. Six large LED screens will be hoisted throughout the parking lot, providing a good view from any spot in the 850-car-maximum lot, and attendees can listen to the performance over FM radio. There won’t be any concessions for safety measures, he said, but guests will be encouraged to bring their own food and drinks.

Bathrooms will be available.

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