This week’s “Coronavirus Edition” of “Arts News” features a talk with Christopher Koch, Music Director and conductor of Springfield Regional Opera. I asked him what SRO was working on when the stay-at-home order hit in March.
“Well, we were really digging in to ‘Pagliacci.’" This was to be SRO’s major production for the 2019-2020 season and was to have been performed in early April at Springfield’s Gillioz Theatre, and then taken on tour to the Faulkner Performing Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. SRO had brought in a guest stage director from Vienna, and as Koch said, “everybody was working hard. And then, like it happened to all of us in the course of about 10 days, we went from life as normal to something very, very different” when COVID-19 hit the U.S. hard in early and mid March. Koch said the first thing he and his colleagues did, understandably, was get “incredibly stressed, pacing back and forth in all of our rehearsals.” But by the end of the week, decisions were made to suspend “Pagliacci” rehearsals and try to get their guest director back home to Vienna. “And in fact, he caught the second to last flight that would have been possible, and got there safely and is fine.”
At that point SRO “battened down all the hatches,” said Koch, working with their partner organizations and vendors like the Gillioz and the Faulkner Center, essentially to “not spend money on things” that weren’t going to happen. “And we went into stasis.”
And now? “We have plans to resume ‘Pagliacci’ rehearsals toward the end of the summer. We've re-scheduled (the production at the Gillioz) for September 4th and 5th—but,” added Koch, “we all know that that may or may not happen.” It’s merely a contingency plan at this point, dependent on how the “recovery” from the Coronavirus proceeds. If they can’t just go full-guns with the “Pagliacci” production, SRO has come up with a total of three contingency plans.
“And it is kind of a complicated plan,” admitted Christopher Koch. But he said SRO plans to present a “a definitive version of the plan” on their website, www.sropera.org. “We're trying to err on the side of not too much fine print, but essentially we have three main categories of events that could happen this year.”
Plan one is to continue planning the season “as if everything is normal,” which means going ahead with the re-scheduled “Pagliacci” production in September; the fundraising “Soiree” in October, which Koch said would be similar to SRO’s “Mozart Vs. Salieri” event from a few seasons ago. The season would conclude in February 2021 with a concert (i.e. non-staged) version of Puccini’s giant last opera “Turandot,” which Koch said would be like another “Otello” for the company, referring to their concert performance of Verdi’s masterpiece in the 2017-18 season.
“That's if things are looking good. If things are still dubious,” Koch said, Option Two would involve various “social distancing possibilities for all of those events. So, small audiences, determined by maximum occupancy size for the venue in question; distance between each audience member; distance between each performer; monitoring in place to make sure people aren't congregating in ticket spaces or other public spaces; and then additional performances” rather than the usual two or three per show. “If you can only play for 200 people at a time, you’ve got to do more performances if you're going to sell enough tickets to make it worth your while.” Obviously, there are limitations to this. “It’s not like we can do 20 performances. We’d love to… but we’d go bankrupt.” Koch said Option Two would naturally “depend on a lot of factors.
Option Three, he said, would be put in place “either if things are just really not improving (in flattening the Coronavirus curve), or if there is a resurgence of the virus once or multiple times. So we will replace some of these large events with small-scale operas--full operas, but instead of choruses and dozens of cast members and orchestras, just a piano and a few singers. And we would present those for very small audiences, probably 50 to 75 at a time, maybe even fewer. And we would do a lot of performances, maybe four to eight performances of those.”
Koch insisted that, in times like this, any performing arts organization must be prepared to “assume the worst. If you put all your eggs in the basket of normalcy, you will have a lot of broken egg!”
Bottom line? SRO hopes they will be able to present the major productions on which they’ve been planning. However, said Christopher Koch, “we are planning for these little events, and thinking of new opportunities for ourselves, just to expand what we do anyway, instead of just being depressed about not being back on stage in our traditional way.”
Again, updated information on plans for SRO’s 2020-21 season will be available at www.sropera.org as well as the company’s various social media platforms. “What you will see in the next two to three weeks,” promised Koch, is “a fleshing out of the plan and a filling-in of more details as we get recommendations from the city of Springfield and other organizations.”