Palm Beach Opera’s first-ever outdoor festival concluded on Saturday, Feb. 27. The 10-day festival featured a star-studded cast of Metropolitan Opera Stars in live performances of “La bohème,” “Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute)” and “Pagliacci” at the South Florida Fairgrounds’ iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre. With a total audience of more than 3,700 people over six performances, PBO’s outdoor festival represents the nation’s first large-scale presentation of live opera since the onset of the pandemic, which shuttered theaters and venues nationwide.
“We are incredibly proud to be the first opera company in the country to present live, large-scale opera – with a full chorus, full orchestra, major opera stars, and large audiences – since the pandemic began,” said General Director David Walker. “We were determined to bring live opera back to our community in a safe and memorable way and to provide performance opportunities for so many affected artists, particularly after such a challenging year. Thanks to the support of our board of directors, supporters, and patrons, we were able to provide the healing power of music to these artists and to thousands in our community and beyond – a huge feat that marks an unforgettable moment in PBO history.”
Palm Beach Opera enlisted renowned singers from the Metropolitan Opera and other major opera houses nationwide, making Palm Beach Opera’s festival the major event of the American opera season. Esteemed artists Isabel Leonard, Latonia Moore, Ana María Martínez, Janai Brugger, Kathryn Lewek, Michael Fabiano, Quinn Kelsey, Joshua Hopkins, Peixin Chin, Michael Chioldi, Ryan Speedo Green, and Matthew Polenzani headlined the casts. The historic festival received universal critical acclaim.
Palm Beach Opera’s 2021 Festival was praised as a “courageous winter operatic feast” and for its “breathtakingly beautiful” performances by South Florida Classical Review, noted as “the centerpiece of this year’s season” by WLRN, and celebrated for the “palpable feeling of joy” found in performances by Musical America. The festival also marked both a turning point and a critical return to the stage for many opera singers after a nearly year-long absence.
In collaboration with PBO’s team of medical advisors, PBO followed stringent safety protocols for patrons, orchestra and chorus members, cast members, administrative staff, and countless backstage personnel. Patrons in the iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre were seated in “pods” and socially distanced throughout the venue. Audience members were required to wear masks at all times inside the venue, with COVID-19 Compliance Officers and Risk Mitigation Managers enforcing the safety protocols throughout the event.
In the seven months prior to the festival, PBO analyzed all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization regulations, reviewed the company’s union recommendations, and collaborated with its medical advisory teams. PBO also worked closely with its premier virus testing partner, ArcPoint labs, to develop COVID-19 protocols and procedures to ensure the safety of over 200 personnel, including leading singers, chorus members, orchestra musicians, directors and production staff, backstage crew, and the company’s administrative team. Due to the rigorous research and planning, and strict adherence to methodology, PBO is proud to report that there was no transmission of the COVID-19 virus to the staff, cast, or crew during the three-week rehearsal and performance period.
As part of its mission to inspire life-long interest in the arts, and in an effort to bring the festival experience to as many members of the community as possible, Palm Beach Opera also provided free tickets to the Academy for Positive Learning, Dreyfoos School of the Arts, Palm Beach County Urban League Young Professionals, and various healthcare workers, teachers, and first responders.