"We were able to do two performances of La Bohème at the Dickens Opera House in Longmont," says Boulder Opera stage director Michael Travis Risner. "Then the venue had to close."
On Sunday, March 7, the community-based opera, which has been one of the more active companies since the pandemic shut down live entertainment last March, is launching its second full-scale mid-pandemic production, this time at Boulder's The Spark, with lighter fare: Mozart'sThe Marriage of Figaro, an attempt to bring some levity to our lives as the pandemic drags on past the one-year mark.
With the Spark's giant garage doors, which will be open for the show, Risner is confident that the space will offer a safer environment than most venues; for those who are still not comfortable going out, The Marriage of Figaro will also be livestreamed.
The production will be run under the standard set of COVID-19 safety guidelines. Because the garage door opens and the stage is far from the crowd, singers will be allowed to remove their masks.
Figaro is a highly physical opera with broad comedy and lots of contact between the actors, making adapting it to COVID times somewhat difficult. "With Figaro, the challenge for me is to take a show that is intimate, farcical, and do that without a lot of physical touch," says Risner.
Avoiding touch isn't the only challenge during the pandemic, of course. The theater and opera worlds have been struggling to survive economic fallout, and the expenses of paying for actors, sets, costumes and licensing fees make it impossible for most companies to break even putting on shows with reduced capacities, Risner notes.
"Boulder Opera is a little bit luckier," he adds. "When you do an opera, a lot of that is in the public domain, unless you’re using the English translation in the score. There is no requirement that you have to do Mozart with a full opera. We wrote our own subtitles. There are ways to cut the costs, but it’s still really expensive to get a venue and materials for building sets."
Risner, one of many theater professionals whose lives have been smashed by the pandemic, is looking forward to Mozart's comedy. "It’s my favorite opera, for sure," he says. "This is the fifth time I’ve been involved with this opera, and we are staging it in a contemporary manner. The company has chosen to spend money on singers and a venue and things like that rather than pumping a lot of money into costume design."
The palette of the stage design and costuming is driven by colors tied to characters' emotional states and the keys in which they sing. While larger companies have big budgets for costuming, Boulder Opera often leaves the wardrobe purchases to the performers.
"It’s a community theater," explains Risner. "That’s kind of the way we have to go with that. That gives them a certain amount of ownership to it as well. I’ve been doing theater for twenty or thirty years. It’s just part of it. It’s a luxury when you get to work at someplace like the DCPA or Arvada Center that’s got a lot of money. Someplace you don’t have to wear your own shoes or you don’t have to bring your own costumes or we don’t have the props.
"Boulder Opera is a small company. We don’t have that kind of capital, and we have to rely on our people," he adds. "We do good work. I’m proud of the work we do."
Performances of The Marriage of Figaro are set for 1 p.m. Sunday, March 7; 3 p.m. Saturday, March 13; and 4 p.m. Sunday, March 14, at The Spark, 4847 Pearl Street, B4, Boulder. Tickets are $30 for students and seniors and $35 for adults; the show will also be livestreamed. For more information, go to the Boulder Opera Company website.
Update, March 4, 2021: The company has canceled a previously announced March 6 show.
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