By Andrea Nakano

SAN RAFAEL (KPIX) — Sixteen months ago, the San Francisco Opera closed their curtains. Friday night was the company’s first performance in front of a live audience since December 2019 but that audience stayed safely and comfortably in their cars.

The performance was months in the making — The Barber of Seville at Marin Center in San Rafael.

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“We’ve been going around saying ‘happy opening night’ to people which, in a usual year, is an exciting thing to do but in this year it’s never meant so much,” said Matthew Shilvock, general director of San Francisco Opera.

With strict testing protocols, performers were finally able to rip off their masks and have their voices heard loud and clear — with some pandemic restrictions.

“If they are singing at each other, they have to be farther apart. If they are singing away from each other, they will be closer together,” Shilvock explained.

The vibrant songs from this performance were heard through the car radios. Instead of playing in the pit, the orchestra performed in a tent with socially-distanced and masked musicians.

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One lot has a direct view of the stage and another has access to a big screen.

“This is the way to do it in the car. I can lean my seat back. I can stretch out. I’m not stuffed in. I’m not dressed up … I’m not going to tell you what I’m wearing, it’s good,” said a couple who identified themselves as Lucia and Greg.

The San Francisco Opera estimates that, with the new venue, 40 percent of the audience members are first-timers to the opera. For others, being here reminded them what life was like before the pandemic.

“It feels like a healing that our world is getting better,” said David and Julie Hill.

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Just a side note about the lead female performer. She is actually nine months pregnant and her understudy watched her closely, just in case she needed to step in.