When the overture to Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” started playing from the back of the pickup truck in the airport parking lot, my oldest son’s first words were, “Bugs Bunny!”
Until that Saturday evening, his frame of reference for opera was the Loony Tunes cartoon where Bugs Bunny, playing the “Bunny of Seville,” uses “Figaro Fertilizer” to grow a crop of red flowers on Elmer Fudd’s bald head. (It’s a classic.)
Live opera had driven up, literally, in a white pickup while we ate burgers and wings from food trucks at El Paso International Airport.
Our trip to Food Trucks on the Fly for dinner – food trucks and outdoor dining in the short-term parking lot on weekends – was planned. The opera was not.
Arias performed by local opera singers from the back of a pickup truck would be a pleasant surprise any day, but what made it extra special was it was our son’s birthday.
Even better, he thought it was the greatest. Truly, it made his day. And as a 9-year-old turning zeroteen, getting excited is decidedly not cool. Many things are boring, but live opera on that day was not one of them.
It turns out the Ford F-350 belongs to El Paso Opera executive director Arianne Marcee and her husband and is driven by their daughter, Aislin. Curbside Opera has drawn attention from other opera groups and been featured in Broadway World magazine. A story written by Cindy Graff Cohen, published in The B Section in July, has more details.
One of the performers that night was Mariana Sandoval, an opera singer and office manager for El Paso Opera. I reached her by phone, and she said they are approaching 100 Curbside Opera performances.
“It has just been a whole beautiful experience for everybody,” Sandoval said.
It gives opera singers an opportunity to perform during the pandemic when they can’t indoors and gives El Pasoans an opportunity to hear a mini live performance – and a style of music they may not have heard before, she said.
Even so, there are occasional challenges. Like the weather.
“In a matter of seconds – I’m not kidding you – it was beautiful at an Eastside park and we were ready to sing and there was a family sitting in lawn chairs, and, all of a sudden, a sandstorm came out of nowhere,” she said. “We had to pack up in the middle of the song. I got a lot of sand in my mouth.”
As the evenings shorten and get colder and the opera turns to its upcoming 2020-21 season, it’s tapping the breaks on Curbside Opera. It’s not over, but there will be fewer pickup-staged arias.
Before performances, El Paso Opera posts the times and locations on its Facebook page:
This column coalesced in my mind on a Tuesday morning rollerblade as I navigated around little dogs on long leashes, big dogs on short leashes and their earbud-wearing owners oblivious to my polite, “Passing from behind.”
“What a productive rollerblade,” my brain congratulated itself. Column done.
Then it was chastened. “Not every moment has to be productive!” I stopped to tap out some words in the Notes app on my phone.
Opera, even (or maybe especially) from the back of a pickup truck in a parking lot, scratches a fundamental human need. That Tuesday, joined by clusters of socially distanced couples and families chowing down on greasy burgers and wings from food trucks, all felt right with the world.