At last, a performance! Of live music! On a hot but breezy afternoon, OperaDelaware presented Drive-Through Arias in the parking lot of its Studios on Wilmington’s riverfront. Audience members sat in their air-conditioned cars while Gina Perregrino (mezzo-soprano), Jason Berger (tenor), and Grant Youngblood (baritone) sang some of opera’s “greatest hits” from the steps of the renovated factory’s second-floor façade. Was it the optimal way to present and enjoy such beautiful music? Absolutely not. But was it wonderful? Absolutely!
The three short programs were designed by OperaDelaware’s general director, Brendan Cooke, along with head of music staff Aurelien Eulert. Modestly priced and offered for 10 socially distanced cars per performance, the 20-minute musical offering of four arias was repeated three times. That meant that each of these fine regional singers—available because, of course, their operatic or concert appearances were all canceled—was able to sing their chosen repertoire twice.
Berger, who mounted the flight of iron steps and bravely opened the program, gave a lovely rendition of Donizetti’s “Una furtiva lagrima” (from L’elisir d’amore), and sang the beautiful tenor aria “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Franz Lehar’s operetta Das Land des Lächelns. Berger, a recent member of OperaDelaware’s Young Artist Program, held a variety of jobs while getting his first stage credits. When he was working as a Starbucks barista, a customer filmed him singing behind the register, and the video went viral. It was delightful to hear this young tenor in his operatic repertoire.
A rising mezzo star, Perregrino gave a heartfelt interpretation of the plaintive (and difficult) “Va, laisse couler mes larmes” from Werther by Jules Massenet. She also issued an innuendo-filled invitation to the parked cars with the sexy “Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen. This aria—sung seductively to an onstage crowd during the opera—worked exceptionally well reverberating around the adjacent buildings.
Youngblood, an accomplished and seasoned baritone, sang Germont’s lyric and challenging aria “Di Provenza il mar, il suol” from Verdi’s La Traviata, along with “Warm as the Autumn Light,” Horace Tabor’s aria from The Ballad of Baby Doe (written by Douglas Moore in 1956). It was a treat to hear Youngblood sing this haunting, reflective 20th-century American work.
Playing an electronic keyboard (no self-respecting grand piano would venture outside in such heat), Eulert delivered sensitive, thoughtful partnering, a feat not easily achieved while playing on the ground level with singers 10 feet above.
Honk if you love opera
In an event executed with near-military precision, each performance began on time. Arriving cars were smoothly directed to well-separated parking spaces marked by a combination of traffic cones and music stands, and egress was just as smooth. All personnel wore masks, including the singers (when out of the spotlight), and an electronic program with mini-titles (via LiveNote) came up easily on mobile devices. Throughout, audience members accompanied their applause with enthusiastic horn honking.
To plan for this performance, OperaDelaware held a trial run with board members, and Cooke says he hopes to do something similar on other summer weekends. An event like this—carrying so much freight after months of artistic absence—could easily have been more about the event itself than about its content. But everything here was clearly done in service of the singing.
And as for the singing, the three fine vocalists must be commended for choosing repertoire that carried in this challenging environment, bringing their artistry to the metal steps of a brick building on an 88-degree afternoon. Connecting musically across pavement and through windshields isn’t a perfect scenario, but until audiences can gather in OperaDelaware’s lovely Riverfront Studio or on the stage of Wilmington’s elegant Grand Opera House, let’s hope for more programs like this one.
What, When, Where
Drive-Through Arias. OperaDelaware. Gina Perregrino, mezzo-soprano; Jason Berger, tenor; Grant Youngblood, baritone; and Aurelien Eulert, piano. Saturday, June 6, 2020, at the OperaDelaware Studios parking lot, 4 South Poplar St., on the Riverfront in Wilmington, DE. (302) 658-8063 or operade.org
Limited number of cars permitted in the parking lot; all patrons inside vehicles. Performance designed in accordance with Delaware Division of Public Health recommendations. Artists, staff, and audiences adhered to CDC safety precautions and social-distancing guidelines.