Opera Grand Rapids decides the show must (safely) go on


Courtesy / GR Opera Week

Mary Dupuis

Opera Grand Rapids will be holding their second annual Opera Week from Oct. 19-25, and the staff has a full schedule of events lined up for the city to enjoy some safe, family fun. 

The plans for this week began while the staff was still in quarantine due to COVID-19. Executive Director Emilee Syrewicze said they knew for a long time that the week would be taking place. However, they weren’t able to create any real plans for it until very recently. 

“We realized we can still do it if we follow social distancing guidelines and adhere to safety regulations,” Syrewicze said. “I know that as long as we’re creative and safe about it we can still bring people together with opera.”

In order to hold the events throughout this week in the safest manner possible, Opera Grand Rapids has put heavy protocol for their performers, as well as their guests, into place. 

Syrewicze said the group partnered with University of Michigan Metro Health and tested every single artist and musician before they began preparing for the week. In order to show up to production, the performer needed to provide a negative test. Everyone in the building was also asked to wear a mask at all times. 

On top of this, there was a bipolar ionization unit installed in the Betty Van Andel Arena, which is the only HVAC system known to kill COVID-19. Upon entering the building the performer needed to have a mask, a verification screening and a temperature check. 

As for guests, when they arrive for events this week at the East Grand Rapids Performance Center, the Betty Van Andel Arena, or the Fifth Third Baseball Park, they must go through standard COVID-19 screening processes and a temperature check. They must also wear a mask and practice proper social distancing. 

The week will begin on Oct. 19 with Education Day. From 12-1 p.m., the Director of Music Education and Assistant Conductor of Opera Grand Rapids, Austin McWilliams, will be giving a presentation at East Grand Rapids High School.

Then, from 3:15-4:45 p.m., actor and musician Steven Condy is holding a collegiate masterclass that GVSU students are able to attend. 

The pop-up concert taking place on Oct. 20 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum had to be canceled due to the museum’s social distancing protocol. However, there will still be a live-streamed pop-up performance. The Opera Grand Rapids website has said to be on the lookout for a livestream “sneak peek” from the East Grand Rapids Performing Arts Center on Facebook. 

Chorus Day is Oct. 21 and will include performances by an octet of caroling singers at 11:15 a.m. in the Fulton Street Farmers Market, 12:00 p.m. at the Downtown Market, 1:00 p.m. at the Rosa Parks Circle, 1:45 p.m. in the Ionia Social Zone and 2:30 p.m. at the House of Wine. 

Oct. 22 features the “Ballads and Brews” event at 7:00 p.m. at Broadleaf with vocalist Kohl Weisman, who usually accompanies himself on electric guitar while singing opera. Broadleaf is offering 20% off of retail beer all week long for Opera Week. 

The final day of the week, Oct. 23, will be the performance of “Così fan tutte,” a comedy by Mozart. The performance will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the East Grand Rapids High School Performing Arts Center. There will also be a live simulcast of the performance at the Fifth Third Ballpark, as part of an event titled, “Take Me Out to the Opera.” The rain date for this event is Oct. 25 at 2:00 p.m. 

The tickets to attend “Take Me Out to the Opera” can be found on the Fifth Third Ballpark website for $25 general admission. However, students can get tickets for only $5. 

Syrewicze is most excited about this event not only because of the simulcast, but also the sheer luck of how the show came to be. 

“We scheduled this opera two years ago, and by general planning and sheer dumb luck it worked perfectly with COVID-19 restrictions,” Syrewicze said. “It doesn’t have a chorus, it has a very small orchestra of 22 people and generally only four people on stage and we’re socially distancing them. If we’re creative, we can still safely perform.”

Steve VanWagoner, Director of Marketing and Media Relations for the West Michigan Whitecaps, said this collaboration is very important to the ballpark and their mission to stay relevant in the community during this time. He said he hopes this live simulcast will be a night of fun for families to remember. 

“When people enter the ballpark, we like to think of the five senses being touched when they get in,” VanWagoner said. “When they arrive, it will smell like a ballpark — we’ll have our grills running with ballpark food. Our large screen will be waiting right in center field, and it’s one of the biggest screens in West Michigan. The grass is still green and well maintained and clean and enjoyable. We just want people to enjoy each other in West Michigan.”

Following the tradition set by the first Opera Week in 2019, the Opera Signature Pass will still be available to purchase for guests. For a $10 donation or a bag of Halloween candy for Opera Grand Rapids’ “Trick or Treating at the Betty” event, guests can get a pass to receive exclusive discounts at participating restaurants and retailers. 

If a guest with an Opera Signature Pass visits three of the participating businesses during Opera Week and tags Opera Grand Rapids on Facebook, they can receive two free tickets to Opera Grand Rapids’ spring 2021 shows: “Turandot” or “Aida.”