Opera at a drive-in movie theater? Yes, and it’s part of Austin Opera’s upcoming season


Austin Opera’s first production of the 2020-2021 season won’t be in the Long Center for the Performing Arts, but at the Blue Starlite Drive-in.

Beginning this fall, in an effort to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic, Austin Opera will bring a series of operas and concerts specifically filmed for the screen, to Blue Starlite’s theaters in East Austin and Round Rock.

The company’s season in the Long Center, its traditional venue, will begin in January with “An All-Star Concert.” Audiences will be seated in a socially distanced arrangement in Dell Hall in accordance with guidelines from the State of Texas and created in collaboration with the Long Center. A production of Puccini’s “Tosca” will be presented in April/May 2021, and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” in November 2021.

Opera officials announced the new plans for the season today. Like other performing arts organizations, Austin Opera cancelled its live productions mid-March when Austin shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The productions at the Long Center will be captured live and available for digital streaming for those unable to attend.

Also, “Live from Indy Terrace,” Austin Opera’s popular digitally presented recital series that initiated in response the pandemic, will continue as part of the company’s regular programming. So far, “Live from Indy Terrace,” concerts have attracted 28,000 viewers in 39 states and seven countries.

Austin Opera general director and CEO Annie Burridge said that trying to imagine how opera might continue in the middle of an ever-changing pandemic has meant juggling constantly changing factors.

“We have planned a dozen different season scenarios in recent months, trying to keep pace with the latest health and medical advice and the directives from our local leaders,” Burridge said.

“The digital aspect of our new performance schedule reveals how nimble an opera company must be in this uncertain age about maintaining its creative edge and reminding our passionate supporters that we are still in the business of making exceptionally moving art.

Opera companies around the country have been scrambling in the face of the pandemic, in an effort to rescue of the critical ticket revenue.

After the Metropolitan Opera furloughed more than 1,000 employees with no pay, has lauched a pay-per-view digital recital series. And Opera Philadelphia, instead of producing for the stage, will turn opera productions into original films and release them on the company’s online video channel. After delaying it in person performances until 2021, Dallas Opera launched the TDO Network, a digital performance platform.

Full details of the Blue Starlite series is forthcoming, but Austin Opera’s shows start in October with the world premiere screening of “Winter Journey (Winterreise),” a new production of Schubert’s song cycle featuring Texas-born baritone David Adam Moore. Originally to have been presented at the Austin Central Library in April, the visually striking production — which Moore co-designed — uses 3D projection mapping to incorporates video shot in locations throughout the country. “Winter Journey” will be filmed this fall at Austin Opera’s Indy Terrace rehearsal studio in collaboration with local technology firm Subvrsive.

Next at the drive-in will be Madison Opera’s production of Poulenc’s one-act opera “La voix humaine,” and then a 60-minute concert with the married duo of soprano Lauren Snouffer and baritone Mark Diamond.

Both Blue Starlite locations are small by traditional drive-in standards, will sell tickets for about 40 cars.

Blue Starlite owner Josh Frank — whose mother, as a young opera singer, studied with Austin Opera co-founder Walter Ducloux — said that presenting Austin Opera seemed like a good fit. “(We’re) both striving to provide discerning Austin audiences with a unique communal live experience,” he said in press statement.

The revamped schedule postpones two previously scheduled operas. “Penelope,” presented in collaboration with Fusebox Festival, will now be a part of the 2021-2022 season. And “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” by Mason Bates and Mark Campbell, has been moved to January 2022.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is an arts and culture journalist who has covered visual art, performance, film, literature, architecture, and just about any combination thereof. She was the staff arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman for 17 years. Her commendations include the First Place Arts & Culture Criticism Award from the Society for Features Journalism. Additionally, Jeanne Claire has been awarded professional fellowships at USC’s Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and NEA/Columbia University Arts Journalism Institute. In 2022, she was awarded the Rabkin Prize in visual art journalism. Jeanne Claire founded and led Sightlines, a non-profit online arts and culture magazine that reached an annual readership of 600,000. And for two years, she taught arts journalism at the University of Texas College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Architecture magazine, Dwell, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Art Papers, and ICON design magazine, among other publications.

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