The San Diego Opera House is back at the drive-through, and it’s a feast for the eyes and ears

The San Diego Opera House returned to the Pechanga Arena parking lot this weekend for a spring festival with a pandemic-themed recital and a colorful production of “The Barber of Seville.”

The festival – which continues with two more performances of “Barber” later this week – takes place at the same location as the company’s last drive-in opera last fall, “La bohème,” but it improves on the formula.

This time, there’s better video screen placement, more live close-ups of the singers, a performance area that extends beyond the stage, and the ability for audience members to see the notes. program and English translations on their cell phones at mid-show. Artistically, it’s a feast for the ears, with many beautiful vocal and musical performances.

Baritone David Pershall plays the Figaro in “The Barber of Seville” from the San Diego opera.

(Courtesy of J. Kat Woronowicz)

Festival conductor Bruce Stasyna not only conducts the San Diego Symphony Orchestra in fine and diverse performances over the weekend, he also co-designed with Alan E. Hicks the opening concert, which drew 425 cars on Saturday. As in previous “One Amazing Night” recitals, opera was only one genre explored. Captioning “Unmasking the Music of Notorious Pandemics” may sound like a bleak dish, but it was fascinating.

Actor James Newcomb served as a crumpled historian, telling the story of epidemics and pandemics and the music they inspired, beginning with the sad cantata No. 25 inspired by the leprosy epidemic, sung plaintively by Shelby Condray, bass singer of the San Diego Opera Chorus. Soprano Tasha Koontz impressed with a knockout performance of “God What a Thrill” from Gounod’s opera “Romeo and Juliet”, based on a piece with a touch of bubonic plague. Allison Spratt Pearce and Abigail Allwein soared in songs from “Secret Garden,” a musical about a girl orphaned by a cholera outbreak in India. And tenor Victor Morris surprised with the little-known 1930s protest song “The 1919 Influenza Blues”.

While most of the songs in the 90-minute concert were clearly linked to major health crises, like “Seasons of Love” from the AIDS-themed musical “Rent,” some arose during the explosions of artistic creativity that followed. often pandemics, like that of Erich Korngold in 1920. aria “Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen”, sung with subtlety by baritone Michael Sokol, and two German torchlight songs by Friedrich Hollaender, soprano sung with passion Angelina Réaux.

Mezzo-soprano Emily Fons plays Rosina in the San Diego Opera "The Barber of Seville."

Mezzo-soprano Emily Fons plays Rosina in “The Barber of Seville” from the San Diego opera.

(Courtesy of J. Kat Woronowicz)

In contrast, the production “Barber” in freewheeling is light and mellow family entertainment with exaggerated and wacky performances. Directed by Keturah Stickann, the production moves eighteenth-century comedy to the 1960s, where titular barber Figaro makes his debut by bicycle in a Sgt. Pepper-inspired conductor’s coat.

The groovy sets and costumes and most of the show’s visual gags were inspired by the late 1960s TV show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In”. The go-go heroine Rosina dances in a not too mini skirt, and the impoverished man she loves, Lindoro, starts off in hippie outfit and ends in a chic leisure outfit when he tells Rosina he’s in. says the wealthy Count Almaviva in disguise. In a comedic nod to social distancing, lovers exchange letters stuffing them into balls and throwing them at each other and Figaro shaves his boss with a razor attached to a three-foot telescoping rod.

The opera was cut to 90 minutes, with much of its recitative plot exposure cut off. Miss a few subtitles or don’t get the “Laugh-In” jokes and you might get lost. There are also head scratching moments involving knitting needles, a rubber chicken, and a pool float, but the sense of the game is infectious and the vocals are sublime.

Carlos Enrique Santelli plays Lindoro and Count Almaviva in the San Diego Opera House "The Barber of Seville."

Carlos Enrique Santelli plays Lindoro and Count Almaviva in “The Barber of Seville” from the San Diego opera.

(Courtesy of J. Kat Woronowicz)

The show’s star was mezzo-soprano Emily Fons as Rosina. She is charming and young in the role, and her coloratura vocal performance of “Una voce poco fa” was as crisp and breezy as the bracing Sunday night air. Baritone David Pershall gave a larger-than-life performance as Figaro, filling the stage with his robust vocals and comedic personality.

As Almaviva, tenor Carlos Enrique Santelli sang with controlled ease. Rich-voiced bass singer Peixin Chen made an impressive debut as music teacher Don Basilio. And like Dr. Bartolo, bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi performed the notoriously difficult crackling aria “A un dottor della mia Sort”. Bass-baritone Joshua Arky as Almaviva Fiorello’s servant and mezzo-soprano Alexandra Rodrick as Bartolo Berta’s servant round out the main cast in stripped-down roles. Members of the San Diego Opera Chorus perform their vocal roles from cars in the parking lot lined up at the foot of the stage.

You don’t always know what’s going on in this “Barber”, but the short duration of the show keeps the comedy sparkle from deflating, and the vocals are concert hall quality.

“The Barber of Seville”

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (doors open at 6 p.m.)

Tickets: $ 200 and more (cost is per car)

Or: 3500 Sports Arena Boulevard, San Diego

Call: (619) 533-7000


San Diego Opera House "The Barber of Seville."

Peixin Chen, left, and Patrick Carfizzi in a scene from “The Barber of Seville” from the San Diego opera house.

(Courtesy of J. Kat Woronowicz)

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