Opera Columbus Returns to the Stage

The arts organization is determined to bring back live performances.

Marlie Griffith
Julia Noulin-Mérat, general director and CEO of Opera Columbus

“I want a win for Columbus,” says Julia Noulin-Mérat, newly appointed general director and CEO of Opera Columbus. To Noulin-Mérat, finding a way to safely return to the stage this spring with “Don Giovanni” is that victory.

The company’s efforts begin in the rehearsal room. Following recommendations from Gov. Mike DeWine and the CDC, performers have their temperatures checked and are tested for COVID-19 regularly. Practices have been limited to essential personnel only, props are sanitized before sharing, and rehearsal spaces are aired out between sessions.

The show, scheduled for April 30 and May 2 in the Gallery at COSI to accommodate spacing and other safety precautions, will look very different as well. The orchestra will be socially distanced with plexiglass separating musicians. Audience members will be divided into two-person “pods,” distanced from one another, and provided with masks. Only 150 patrons will be allowed to attend, greatly reduced from the normal crowds of anywhere from 800 to 1,000, says Noulin-Mérat, who took the reins of Opera Columbus in late January following the departure of Peggy Kriha Dye.

But the biggest difference is the format of the opera, a cautionary tale of the sinful Don Giovanni’s descent to hell. Typically a two-hour program plus intermission, Opera Columbus has condensed it into a 90-minute performance to eliminate the need for an intermission and prevent gathering between acts.

“Ninety minutes of ‘Don Giovanni’ is quite a brave undertaking,” says Noulin-Mérat. “But [our director and conductor] have done an amazing job, and we can’t wait for an audience.”