ENO to stage drive-in operas for social distancing audiences

24 April 2020, 11:46 | Updated: 24 April 2020, 12:20

ENO to stage drive-in operas for social-distancing audiences
ENO to stage drive-in operas for social-distancing audiences. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Drive-in operas are being brought to the grounds of London’s Alexandra Palace, in the wake of coronavirus social distancing measures.

Outdoor movie drive-ins, a popular summer entertainment of the 1950s, appear to be making a comeback in the age of coronavirus social distancing measures.

The English National Opera (ENO) is staging what are thought to be the world’s first drive-in opera performances, which audiences can drive to and watch from their cars.

While ENO’s regular performance venue, the London Coliseum, is closed for the foreseeable, these live shows will allow opera lovers to enjoy some great music, while practising social distancing within the safety of their own vehicles.

Performances – which include a 90-minute version of Puccini’s La bohème and a one-hour family production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute – will take place in the first three weeks of September at Alexandra Palace, in North London.

See the NHS’s latest advice on COVID-19 >

Kathryn Lewek and Elena Xanthoudakis star in ENO production of Mozart's The Magic Flute
Kathryn Lewek and Elena Xanthoudakis star in ENO production of Mozart's The Magic Flute. Picture: Getty

The idea, ENO’s chief exec Stuart Murphy explains, is that 300 cars will be allowed onto the grounds, with bigger vehicles at the back. People on motorbikes and bicycles can also attend. Through their open windows, the audience will watch the opera on a specially constructed set. All live singers and musicians will be spaced out according to government guidelines.

Read more: ENO is making scrubs and masks to protect NHS workers >

As the curtain weighs heavy at theatres and opera houses around the world, arts organisations are increasingly looking for creative ideas to bring in new audiences.

Murphy told Classic FM that Drive & Live “will offer a fun way to experience live performance”.

“It is exciting to be experimenting with new technologies and ways of staging opera to bring it to new and broader audiences in these changing times,” he added.

The first performance will also be made free for all NHS and frontline workers.

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In a time when social distancing is the new norm, outdoor movie drive-ins are becoming increasingly popular.

Across the US, restaurants have been turning their carparks into outdoor cinemas. And just last month, hundreds turned up at a drive-in cinema in Essen, west Germany, to enjoy a film from their car, while all other theatres in the country were closed. 

Many people are seeing drive-in entertainment as a safe way to leave the house, while continuing to self-isolate with the people they live with.

Read more: Royal Opera House is streaming free ballet and opera amid pandemic >

If successful, ENO plans to roll out ENO Drive & Live across the country. Details about tickets will be released in the coming weeks on the ENO website.