Opera at the drive-in

Austin Opera launches its season with made-for-video concerts screened at Blue Starlite's mini drive-in

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After baritone Mark Diamond finished the spirited ‘Largo al Factotum’ aria from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville,” I heard a cheerful ‘bravo.’

It came from the car in front of mine at the downtown location of the Blue Starlite Drive-in where Austin Opera presented its season opener, a made-for-video concert by Diamond and his wife, soprano Lauren Snouffer.

My car windows were closed, but the folks ahead of us had their sunroof open, and in the newness of opera at the drive-in, the ‘bravo’ took me and my friend by utter, delightful surprise.

The concert earned its bravo, and not just for the lovely singing by Diamond and Snouffer who performed a concert of opera favorites, but for Austin Opera’s success in finding a charming means of presenting performance in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re making opera films, that’s the state of our industry now,” Annie Burridge, Austin Opera’s CEO and general director told me, when I got out of my car for a bit to take in the pop-up drive-in surroundings.

In the waning twilight and from at least six feet away, I barely recognized Burridge behind her Austin Opera face mask. Blue Starlite’s downtown location is atop a parking garage at San Antonio and West Third streets, with condo towers and the U.S. courthouse as the backdrop. The drive-in set-up isn’t large with spaces for two dozen cars.

The concert had been recorded in the Long Center’s Rollins Studio Theater with pianist Nyle Matsuoka, and was filmed by local company, Subvrsive. A couple of casual chats between Burridge and the singers were sprinkled into the hour-long program. It was a smooth and well-edited production with none of the awkwardness of the camera-in-the-audience documentation of live stage productions we’ve all seen too many of lately.

And it was fun, too. If the sound broadcast was a little crackly throughout, there’s much to be said for the casualness of snacking with your companions in the privacy of your vehicle, flicking through the Austin Opera app to read the program. And even if you are not directly mingling with fellow audience members, there is a tinge of community that comes from being with people who are engaged in the same activity as you.

The “Lauren & Mark” digital concert continues Oct. 18 and 21 at several Blue Starlite locations.

And Austin Opera will continue its drive-in series in November with Houston Grand Opera’s “Vinkensport, of The Finch Opera,” David T. Little’s chamber opera, a hilarious sendup of the little-known Belgian sport of professional finch-calling. Then in December, it’s another HGO production, this one a re-imagining of Mozart’s mini-opera “The Impresario.”

The HGO collaboration is part of a joint program to co-produce and present a slate of new digital opera performances. It’s funded by a recent $1 million grant from Austin philanthropists Sarah and Ernest Butler, given to keep both opera companies at the fore digital producing into 2021.

austinopera.org


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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