San Francisco Opera Returns to Live Performance with Marin Center Drive-In Shows

The acclaimed San Francisco Opera stages its first live opera performances in more than a year this weekend, and it is doing so in Marin County.

Opening on Friday, April 23, SF Opera presents a newly adapted production of Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in a drive-in setting on the grounds of the Marin Center in San Rafael.

Running for eleven performances through May 15, the production is part of a larger return to live shows for the first time in the North Bay since the onset of the global pandemic.

For these drive-in performances, SF Opera Director Matthew Ozawa has adapted The Barber of Seville into a 90-minute (no intermission) backstage comedy that retains all of the work’s humor and vocal fireworks, and Conductor Roderick Cox makes his Company debut leading the 18-piece orchestra.

SF Opera is employing several rigorous safety protocols, such as housing the orchestra in an 80’ by 40’ tent behind the stage (part of an outdoor backstage compound erected to support all aspects of the production). Musicians and singers are also utilizing specially designed wind masks and singer’s masks (singer’s masks used only for rehearsals in the socially distanced staging) developed by Dr. Sanziana Roman of UCSF and the San Francisco Opera Costume Shop.

The operatic action takes place on an adapted version of the set originally intended for SF Opera’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, which was postponed due to the pandemic last year. Work on the set continued in the company’s scene shop during the shutdown and the opera’s creative team utilized the structure’s flexibility of design for the Marin Center drive-in production.

Ozawa’s concept finds singers returning to the opera house after a pandemic and bringing opera back to life, mingling the antics of backstage life with the wit of this beloved work in a poignant and riotously funny staging. The full-scale production takes place on a massive festival stage erected on site for these performances. Conceived by Bay Area designer Alexander V. Nichols, the set and projection designs will take on the appearance of the War Memorial Opera House, especially the backstage dressing rooms. 

Audiences for these rain-or-shine drive-in performances have a choice of purchasing tickets for one of two neighboring locations on the Marin Center campus. The Fairgrounds has a view of the set and live performers, while the Lagoon area allows ticket holders to experience the performance live via simulcast to a drive-in movie screen. A limited number of spots in the Lagoon simulcast area are available for free by arrangement with San Francisco Opera to organizations employing essential workers, as well as to community organizations in Marin.

SF Opera is also presenting three concerts by the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows at the Marin Center. The Opera’s eleven resident artists perform a program of operatic favorites by the world’s greatest composers in the outdoor setting on April 29, May 6 and May 13. Get details on these shows and The Barber of Seville performances at sfopera.com.

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Charlie Swanson
Charlie Swanson is a North Bay native and an arts and music writer and editor who has covered the local scene since 2014.
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