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Backstage with Matthew: The Return of Live Opera: Part 3

Matthew Shilvock

Opera at the drive-in stage setupThis photograph above shows the completed stage in all its glory, and on the stage sits the set for Barber of Seville, adapted from the Fidelio set we built last year–our Cube! The video panels we are using are phenomenal—given the scale and the intensity you really feel like you are standing on Van Ness looking up at our home! The emotions that flood back are profound.

A few days ago, I had the great privilege of taking a 60ft ride up into the air on a Genii lift with Chung Kuo who has been overseeing the construction of the stage (and who began working with the Opera in 1988). It was a spectacular vantage point, looking out over the whole Opera campus–the tents to the left where the Orchestra and crews will be, and then the serene lagoon off to the right. In just a few days audience members will be filling the space right in front of the stage!
Marin Stage
And then there’s the backstage. A few nights ago, we started lighting rehearsals and I took a walk around backstage. Talk about the flood of emotions coming back! For those of us who work in the theater, the backstage world defines us in such vital and deep ways. There is a magical quality to the backstage and we have missed that for the last year. It is a place where a community of passionate colleagues joins together each night and brings new worlds to life. It is a place of respect, of excellence, of possibility. And it feels transformational to have all of that come flooding back. This image shows two backstage shots at the top, and then on the bottom a view out to the “tech table tents” where all of the technical work is overseen in these stage rehearsals. On the bottom left is a view out from the set into the back of one of the video walls when closed. It feels like the Opera House meets Star Trek!
Marin Backstage
This has been such an incredible week as rehearsals have begun on the stage, and we have joined together singers and orchestra for the first time. We call these rehearsals “sitzprobes” and we had two in the last week. The first was with orchestra and singers together–the only time this happened before they separated into stage and tent. It was such a joyful experience, and was so important in creating the symbiotic relationship between the musical forces. Our debuting conductor, Roderick Cox, conducted the orchestra in their tent, while the singers braved the glorious Marin sun and kept a safe distance outside. This allowed them to sing without their mask for the first time. It was as liberating as you could imagine!

Rehearsals have begun on stage
The great thing about this process is that, just as you think it can’t get any more exciting, it does! A few days after this, the singer took to the stage for their second stizprobe. The orchestra remained in the tent and, through the unbelievable work of our sound team, headed by Doug Mitchell, there was complete and utter synchronicity without a single hitch. Everyone could hear everyone else beautifully and, through technology by Ravenna, there was no latency at all. The sound is being mixed into an FM signal which will be broadcast to your cars. We were listening on little portable FM radios while sitting at our tech table tents, and the sound was glorious!

The second sitzprobe with singers on stage and orchestra in the tent, connected through ear pieces and latency-free technology.
The second sitzprobe with singers on stage and orchestra in the tent, connected through ear pieces and latency-free technology.

Meanwhile, back on the War Memorial campus, final touches were being made this week to the costumes before they get transported across the bridge for pianos dress rehearsals which will have happened by the time you read this! The vibrancy, the energy, the joyfulness of the colors and textures chosen by our designer Jessica Jahn, and sported here by one of our Rosinas, Laura Krumm–these costumes bring such a smile. Now, just a quick insider tip: you won’t see the singers necessarily begin in their costumes–the whole arc of the story telling is that a group of singers are finding the Opera House once again after a pandemic, turning it inside out as they uncover props and costumes, and in the process bringing art back to life. So each singer has a street clothes look, and a period look and we’ll gradually move from one to the other in the course of the evening! It’s a fabulous concept by our director Matthew Ozawa, and will be both poignant and riotously funny at the same time!  
Props and costumes are bringing art back to life.
As you may know, there are two ways to see The Barber of Seville, live in Marin. You can purchase a ticket to the Fairgrounds, which will allow you to see the great stage head-on. Or, at a lower price point, you can purchase a ticket to Lagoon Park, which is the field adjacent to the stage. There you can see it come to life on a great video screen, still with all of the beautiful, intimate sound on your FM radio. That screen is now fully up, nestled in the stunning backdrop of the Marin hills. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place to see opera outdoors!

We’ve had a lot of questions about what it will do to your car to listen on the FM radio and whether it will drain your battery. Many newer cars can keep the radio on without all of the car systems being on. Some cars require you to start it back up periodically which is absolutely fine to do. Others like to keep the car systems on without the ignition switching over, which allows you to keep things like the heater on as well. But please don’t worry about your battery. In the very rare event that a battery does go dead, we will have jumper cables at the ready and will get you on the road in no time at all!

Big Screens
One of the advantages of being in new places is that you get to meet new friends. We’ve made two particularly special ones in the past week, Floria and Mario. They have made the intrepid journey from the lagoon over to our stage and support areas, and have taken up residence. Here they are checking up on Erik Walstad, our Technical and Safety Director. He was concerned that they may not have been tested, but was relieved to find out that they are all clear for an all-access pass.

Floria and Mario
Floria has become a very forthright critic in rehearsals, and has spent every evening giving reams of lighting notes to our technical team. She wants to ensure this is the very best show it can be for you all. Mario doesn’t seem to be so interested in the late-night rehearsals, but he’s leaving the work in very capable feathers.


It’s hard to believe that we will be opening an opera in just a few days’ time. Even just writing those words brings a tear to my eye. This is what we have all been missing–company and audience alike. The rush of energy and emotion as the curtain rises and a story of love, of longing, of hope, comes into beautiful life right in front of us. We tell the stories of humanity, and those stories are needed more now than they ever have been. We need to laugh together, cry together, be together. And, in just a few days, we will do all of that. I cannot wait.

I look forward to welcoming you to The Barber of Seville and The Adlers: Live at the Drive In and celebrating all of the possibility of live opera with you.

With great excitement,