Andrew Jorgensen, general director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and his colleagues decided that sacrificing the 2020 season to the COVID-19 pandemic was one season too many. So although pandemic strictures remained in effect as of May 2021, enough metro area residents are vaccinated and enough progress has been made for OTSL to offer a robust – albeit different – 2021 season for its devoted audiences.
The 2021 season, which opened on May 22 and concludes on June 20, will be performed entirely outdoors, staged on the parking lot adjacent to OTSL’s usual home in the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Webster University. “COVID forced us to think outside the box,” Jorgensen says, “and we’re so very grateful to have the blessing and support of Webster University as they let us take over that parking lot. It’s an absolute joy to be making art again, no matter where it’s performed!”
Jorgensen says that OTSL is limiting seating to 266 people, in pods of two, socially distanced on the lot. “This year, due to various health restrictions and guidance from the medical experts at Washington University, we are at approximately 25 percent capacity,” he explains. “We’re so glad to be back to presenting live art, and it will be a joy to see people in our gardens again.”
Pandemic limitations figured into OTSL’s season scheduling. “As we looked at the various challenges caused by COVID,” Jorgensen says, “our main priority was to keep artists and patrons safe. The idea of one-act operas (each 90 minutes or less) helped eliminate issues – no intermissions, for instance, [or] mingling crowds. Also, to ensure we could keep the productions safely ‘bubbled,’ we wanted works with somewhat reduced cast sizes.
“It turns out there are some wonderful operas out there that fit these bills,” Jorgensen says. “There’s something for everyone this season, whether you seek comedy, drama or a world premiere!”
Shows on the 2021 schedule include Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, William Grant Still’s Highway 1, U.S.A., Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine and the tripartite New Works, Bold Voices Lab, showcasing performances of On the Edge from Laura Karpman and Taura Stinson, Moon Tea from Steven Mackey and Rinde Eckert and The Tongue & The Lash from Damien Sneed and Karen Chilton.
Additionally, to be performed on Tuesday, June 15, only will be I Dream a World, a celebration of Juneteenth, on the north lawn of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis’ Forest Park, as well as Center Stage: A Young Artist Showcase on June 19.
All performances will be sung in English, and supertitles will be available for the outdoor presentations. “Of course, patrons are welcome to come early to picnic,” Jorgensen adds. “They can bring their own dinners, or they can order a delicious box dinner from our catering partners at Ces & Judy’s in advance.”
New this season is a uniform price of $39 for tickets, delivered digitally via OTSL’s smartphone app or via print-at-home ticketing. For more information, visit experienceopera.org or call the OTSL box office at 314-961-0644. OTSL also is launching a groundbreaking initiative to offer free seats to every performance in 2021. Available on a first-come, first-served basis, they’re named “Phyllis’ Seats” in honor of the late Phyllis Brissenden, one of OTSL’s most generous supporters.
“We wanted to remove barriers for audiences and make our performances as accessible as possible,” Jorgensen says.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, 210 Hazel Ave., St. Louis, 314-961-0644, opera-stl.org