New York’s Metropolitan Opera announced in September that it would be canceling all its shows for the 2020-21 season, but plans to reopen in September 2021 with American composer and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, the first opera by a Black composer the Met has presented in its 140-year history.
The area’s opera companies face the same performance obstacles as the Met, including long preparation and rehearsal times in close quarters and large audiences sitting close together. So they, too, will be doing things nothing like the usual way this season, but plan to hold on and aim for better days ahead.
Palm Beach Opera: This summer, new General Director David Walker was hoping for good news in virus containment while also expressing dismay over the season that had been cut short by COVID-19 after a very successful opening with Puccini’s Turandot in January and Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in February.
The season was set to close in March with the troupe’s first-ever presentation of Tchaikovsky’s most popular opera, Eugene Onegin.
“Our season was going so incredibly well for my first season as general director, pretty much textbook how to do it great,” he said. And Onegin was looking like another hit. “People were so excited about it, and that would have been just a stellar season.
“And then the pandemic punched us in the face,” he said.
In place of a season of three mainstage operas — Puccini’s La Bohème, Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles, and Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) — and a one-night-only “discovery” opera, Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens, the opera is instead holding an outdoor opera festival in February at the IThink Financial Amphiteatre (i.e. Coral Sky) in suburban West Palm Beach.
Over the week from Feb. 19 to 26, the company will present two performances each of Bohème (Feb. 19 and 24), Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (Feb. 23 and 27) and Magic Flute (Feb. 21 and 26). All performances will be at 7:30 p.m. except for Sunday the 21st, when Magic Flute will be presented at 2 p.m.
The amphitheatre can hold 6,000 people, but audiences will be restricted to 2,500 for these performances. Masks and social distancing will be mandatory, there will be enhanced sanitation, and large video screens will bring the onstage action into closer focus for audiences.
The Bellini opera, which is another telling of the Romeo and Juliet story, will be performed outdoors as well in March, when it will be mounted at the Old School Square Pavilion in Delray Beach on March 21.
Tickets for the festival operas begin at $20, and went on sale in mid-October. The casts will be announced this month on pbopera.org.
Walker, a highly respected countertenor before turning to arts management, said it’s hard to replace live theater with virtual presentations, no matter how skillful.
“That feeling of opera live, there’s nothing like it. I mean, you can do very great digital virtual (products, but it’s not the same as being in the physical presence that music making that sound and how it moves through your body. That we have to keep, we can’t lose the focus on that,” Walker said.
After all, pandemics are familiar to the art form.
“0pera’s not going to die, because it’s been around since 1597, and it’s gone through a lot of plagues. It’s gone through a lot of wars. It’s the power and beauty, the transformative power of opera, that keeps it alive,” he said. “People, it just feeds their souls.” [Palm Beach Opera, pbopera.org; 561-833-7888]
Florida Grand Opera: The Doral-based company had planned a season that included Verdi’s La Traviata, Gioachino Rossini’s Otello (not the much-better known treatment by Verdi), Gounod’s Faust, and Fellow Travelers, a contemporary opera about anti-gay persecution in the Eisenhower Administration by the young American composer Gregory Spears.
As of late October, all those plans were on hiatus, and the company was mounting the first of three concerts of operatic selections by five members of the troupe’s Studio Artist Program: Soprano Shaina Martinez, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Doche, tenor Dylan Elza, baritone Michael Miller and bass-baritone Andrew Simpson.
The first concert, called “First Sing,” was presented in late October at FGO’s Doral Center, and was sold out. It will be followed this month by a concert called “Opera’s Greatest Hits,” which will be performed Nov. 14 at the Doral Center and Nov. 22 at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale. A “Holiday Pops” concert at the Doral Center is scheduled for Dec. 5.
Chief Marketing Officer Nicholas Svorinich said the company will arrive at its “go-no go” decision date early this month, and then will announce its plans for the season.
“We’re kind of like everyone right now. We’re still waiting for a little more openness from (Miami-Dade) county, but basically we’re toeing the county line,” he said.
The current focus of the company is on the fall concerts, but Svorinich said FGO is also looking ahead to 2021 in any case.
“We’ll also, as things develop, be announcing some exciting pivots for the spring with our talented Studio Artists,” he said. [Florida Grand Opera, fgo.org; 800-741-1010]