San Diego Opera’s drive-in ‘La boheme’ has new lead singer and conductor

Soprano Ana Maria Martinez
Soprano Ana Maria Martínez will sing the role of Mimi in San Diego Opera’s drive-in production of “La boheme” opening Oct. 24.
(Courtesy of Tom Specht)

Soprano Ana María Martínez and S.D. Symphony’s Rafael Payare will join the outdoor production opening Oct. 24


With less than three weeks to go before San Diego Opera’s drive-in production of Puccini’s “La bohème” opens in a sports arena parking lot, the company announced a casting change and new conductor today.

Soprano Ana María Martínez will step into the lead role of Mimi to replace singer Angel Blue, who is unable to perform. And San Diego Symphony music director Rafael Payare will conduct the opera’s 24-member orchestra of San Diego Symphony musicians. Payare replaces the previously announced Italian conductor Valerio Galli, who couldn’t travel to San Diego due to travel restrictions related to COVID-19.

Blue, who has played the role of Mimi at the Metropolitan Opera, said she was excited to perform in the production and grateful for the extensive safety measures the company was undertaking for the show, but she has private personal reasons for having to withdraw.

Martínez, a Grammy-winning international opera star based in Houston, will be making her San Diego Opera debut opposite Los Angeles tenor Joshua Guerrero, who will play Mimi’s lover, the poet Rodolfo. With the new additions to the artistic team, this “La bohème” will have a distinctively Latin flavor. Martinez was born in Puerto Rico, Guerrero is Mexican-American and Payare is from Venezuela.

Martínez has had a long and fruitful opera career, having performed at many of the world’s top houses. She has specialized in premiering the works of Latin American opera composers and sang the role of Alessandra in the third season of Amazon network’s “Mozart in the Jungle” series. She also serves as an artistic adviser for Houston Grand Opera and is artist in residence at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music in Houston.

Rafael Payare, music director of San Diego Symphony
Rafael Payare, music director of the San Diego Symphony, will conduct San Diego Opera’s production of “La boheme” opening Oct. 24.
(Nancee E. Lewis/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Payare is best known for his symphonic conducting work, but he has extensive experience in the opera world. He made his debut at England’s Glyndebourne Festival in 2019 conducting Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” He has conducted “Madama Butterfly” and “La bohème” for Royal Swedish Opera and also conducted a new production of “La traviata” at Malmö Opera. In 2015, he was appointed principal conductor of the Castleton Festival in Virginia, where he has conducted performances of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette.”

Tickets to the 90-minute opera will be sold by the carload, at $200 for as many people as there are seatbelts per vehicle. For premium parking, car tickets are $300. Performances of “La bohème” are at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24, 27, 30 and Nov. 1 in the Pechanga Arena San Diego parking lot at 3500 Sports Arena Blvd. in San Diego. For tickets, visit

— Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune