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‘What we do well’: San Diego Opera prepares to give voice to a new season in return to Civic Theatre

San Diego Opera's “Così fan Tutte," depicted in a rendering, will open Saturday, Feb. 12, at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
San Diego Opera’s production of “Così fan Tutte,” depicted in a rendering, will open Saturday, Feb. 12, at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
(Courtesy of San Diego Opera)

San Diego Opera returns to the San Diego Civic Theatre this month for the first time in two years, giving voice to several performances after a pandemic-long stint of drive-in productions.

SD Opera currently is in rehearsals for “Così fan Tutte,” a comedy by Mozart that David Bennett, general director of SD Opera since 2015, said is a production with “a whole new concept. When you’re doing an opera by someone from the 18th century, it’s important to come up with some new ideas and a new approach.”

“Così fan Tutte” opens Saturday, Feb. 12, and runs through Sunday, Feb. 20.

“It’s really great to be thinking about being on that stage again,” Bennett said. “Mozart writes perhaps more beautifully than any other composer to really feature the expressive nature of the human voice. We’ve picked a good one for us to get back to doing what we do well.”

The next opera to take the stage will be “Roméo et Juliette,” the French opera version of Shakespeare’s story, which opens Saturday, March 26, and runs through Sunday, April 3.

San Diego Opera will present “Roméo et Juliette" beginning Saturday, March 26.
(Dan Norman)

Producing grand operas is “a big undertaking,” Bennett said, and SD Opera has been immersed in preparations for several months.

Bennett said SD Opera hires singers from all over the world, many of whom haven’t performed opera in years.

“There’s always a sense of excitement because you’re working with a whole new group of artists” who haven’t worked together before, he said.

In May, SD Opera will produce the West Coast premiere of a smaller production called “Aging Magician,” a family-friendly show featuring the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.

Bennett said he is looking forward to a theater return for the company after several outdoor productions developed in light of pandemic-related restrictions on indoor gatherings.

Since the onset of COVID-19, SD Opera innovated three operas as fully produced drive-in experiences outside San Diego’s Pechanga Arena, a one-evening concert highlighting music written during various pandemics and a holiday screening of an opera called “All is Calm” in the parking lot of the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Bennett said all the adapted shows brought in audience members new to opera, as well as families with children.

The productions were “all great successes,” he said. From a car, “you can have a nice experience and relax in ways that you can’t inside of a theater. You can talk to other people inside your car. You can bring food and drink with you.”

Bennett added that the shows offered “opportunities for people to come together as a community” and kept opera singers employed during a time of scarce performances.

Though he is focused on the new season, Bennett said he imagines SD Opera might incorporate some of 2021 in its future operations.

“The kind of thinking that we had to rely on as a company — being nimble and adaptive — will absolutely be a part of us going forward,” he said.

In returning to the Civic Theatre, Bennett said the company is “taking great care with the safety of the audience.”

“With the drive-in format, we didn’t have to be quite so concerned with the safety of the audience but really focused on keeping all of the performers safe,” he said. “Singing is an activity where you use a lot of breath. It’s a risky endeavor to do during the COVID era.”

Performers, employees and audience members are required to be vaccinated, and SD Opera staff undergoes frequent testing. Audience members will be required to wear masks inside the theater.

For more information, visit sdopera.org or facebook.com/SanDiegoOpera. SD Opera also can be found on Twitter (@sdopera) and Instagram (@sandiegoopera).

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