Sarasota Opera Scales Down to Scale Up

Arts & Culture

BY ANDREW FABIAN SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY APR 9, 2021

In performance art, most of the conversation on reopening revolves around masks and social distancing for the audience. When enforced, these protocols offer the most statistically significant deterrent against the spread of COVID-19 other than, well, staying home. But behind the scenes of any Spring production, performers must rehearse with each other under the watchful eye of directors, all of them in masks, subject to frequent testing and daily temperature checks, and bound by strict guidelines handed down by unions.

“Our artists all live in a bubble in the lead-up to a production,” says Sarasota Opera’s Executive Director, Richard Russell.

The logistics of maintaining that bubble are restrictive, and to that end, Russell and his team found another tool to ease the burden on operations already stretched thin by the pandemic. Instead of an outdoor production or a half-hearted reading on a bare stage, Sarasota Opera chose all four of their Spring Festival operas for the diminutive size of their casts. “It was really important to us this season that we do things that were consistent with our aesthetic,” says Russell, and selecting small operas allowed just that.

The second half of the Spring Festival features “Dido and Aeneas” and “Il Signor Bruschino.” The former calls for nine primary characters and a small chorus while the latter only requires eight total. These small cast sizes mean fewer tests must be administered, social distancing is more readily honored on stage, less time is spent fitting costumes and ultimately, less can go wrong in terms of infection.

“When people come in for these two productions, we really want them to feel like they’re getting the whole experience,” says Russell, “so these short works with small casts allow us to produce as if there were no COVID.” Based on what Russell says has been more widespread interest in the second half of the Spring Festival, the Opera seems to have won over many who were still wary of attending an in-person, indoor production. The optics of a quarter-full theatre of masked guests seems to have instilled a sense of safety.

Even though 20% capacity is a bitter pill to swallow, Russell’s mind is on more than ticket sales. “For some of our guests, this will be their first time out since last year,” says Russell, “and the arts are more essential now than ever. We can bring comfort to people, and that’s powerful.”

The Spring Festival opens tonight with “Il Signor Bruschino.” Please visit Sarasota Opera’s website for details on their health and safety protocols or to purchase tickets.

Click here for more information.

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