Covid-19: Swansea soprano stars in drive-in London opera

Natalya Romaniw

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Novkov Photographer

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Natalya Romaniw stars in the opera, performed outdoors under social-distancing rules

A night at the opera might summon up images of people in suits and ballgowns sitting in stalls and boxes overlooking a stage.

But when she performs in Europe’s first drive-in opera this weekend, Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw will be singing to an audience sitting in their cars.

Ms Romaniw, from Swansea, is starring in Puccini’s La bohème, in the grounds of London’s Alexandra Palace.

The 32-year-old said she felt “lucky to be performing again”.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, performances have been cancelled with many venues remaining closed due to social-distancing measures.

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Novkov Photographer

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The retelling of La bohème is set in modern-day London

Ms Romaniw was playing in an English National Opera production of Madam Butterfly, also by Puccini, when lockdown hit and she was suddenly forced out of work.

“Not being able to perform has been heart-breaking, frustrating, and it’s been a sad time for our industry as a whole,” she said.

Then the soprano secured one of the lead roles in a retelling of Puccini’s most famous work, which tells of the tragic romance of writer Rodolfo and seamstress Mimì, who dies of a respiratory condition.

But, with social distancing measures in place, this is a night at the opera with a difference – people will watch from their cars or sit outside after arriving by bike or on foot.

To adhere to government guidelines, the production has a double cast, chorus and orchestra who have alternated through the run. They have rehearsed and performed in two separate bubbles, while maintaining social distance.

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Novkov Photographer

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Natalya Romaniw says the cast performed in bubbles ahead of outdoor live shows

“Of course, there’ll be a massive change for the audience to see us distanced, but I’m hoping we will pull it off because it’s such heart-rending music you can’t not be involved,” Ms Romaniw said.

“It’s an exciting new concept and no doubt it’ll come with its challenges as we are such a tactile industry, but it’ll be a challenge we’ll desperately want to rise to, because we’ve been away from it for so long.”

She added: “The anticipation to get back was a really exciting one and I’m really happy and feel lucky to be performing again.”

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