First Socially Distanced Opera in the USA to be Directed by Associate Professor of Practice in Opera Studies Chía Patiño

Thursday, August 13, 2020

By Cami Yates

In a time where theatre arts and music performance are struggling to push forward during this pandemic, Associate Professor of Practice in Opera Studies Chía Patiño is working to keep theater alive while keeping everyone safe in the first-ever socially distanced opera.

Associate Professor of Practice in Opera Studies Chía Patiño

Associate Professor of Practice in Opera Studies Chía Patiño

Northern Lights Music Festival invited Patiño to direct Tosca, an opera about three main characters: Floria Tosca, her lover Mario Cavaradossi and the corrupt chief of police Baron Scarpia. Patiño accepted the invitation, isolated a couple of weeks and flew to Minnesota, and as soon as she tested negative, she began working.

“This has been a day-by-day situation,” she said. “Everyone has been absolutely responsible. There’s been no socializing—we’ve been rehearsing and going back to our hotel rooms, so it kind of assures that everybody is safe.”

Directing a show that normally requires close contact between the actors would seem to be quite the challenge, but it was one that Patiño was willing to take. Not only did she figure out how to socially distance scenes that normally require contact, she also made sure that no actor worked with any prop that had already been handled by another actor.

“Instead of sharing props, there is another one waiting. So the next person who is supposed to get it is actually using a prop that has never been touched,” Patiño said. “We didn’t use any of the props during rehearsal. We just started using them after two weeks.”

Taking what she has learned, Patiño will use these new techniques and ideas in her classes this upcoming semester and in the future.

“I think it’s an opportunity to really be able to learn a way to imagine things,” she said. “Our students are learning to be flexible way earlier in their career, and that can only make them better artists.”

She points out this isn’t the first time artists have had to struggle in a situation where they had to find a way to share their art. Patiño talked about how musicians had to play underground during wars, showing that art helps people be stronger, stay creative and connect with others.

“I told the students, as hard as it feels, in 10 years, you will realize the adventures that you had,” Patiño said. “We gain something, we lose something, and I think, as long as everyone’s still thinking as an artist, you still keep learning.”

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