CVRep and the Palm Springs Opera Guild are bringing opera singer Jacquelynne Fontaine to the Coachella Valley for a show on Sunday, July 25.

During normal times, CVRep hosts a show each week during the summer.

“We’d have a jazz series, a classical music series, one-person plays, a cabaret series, etc.,” said Ron Celona, CVRep’s founding artistic director, during a recent phone interview.

Of course, these aren’t normal times—but after being closed to live audiences since March 2020, CVRep is finally opening its doors again. Instead of a show once a week, the theater is dipping its figurative toes back into live performances by hosting one show a month.

The Summer Classical Music Series will feature a different performance monthly during the summer. The show at 7 p.m., Thursday, June 24, will feature a classical piano performance by Victor Shlyakhtenko, the winner of the 2019 Waring International Piano Competition. Next up, at 2 p.m., Sunday, July 25, CVRep will team up with the Palm Springs Opera Guild to feature world-renowned opera singer Jacquelynne Fontaine.

“The classical series (shows) are partnerships with classical music organizations here in the Coachella Valley, like the Steinway Society, the Palm Springs Opera Guild and the Virginia Waring International Piano Competition,” Celona said. “One of them is a privately produced classical show in August by composer Joe Giarrusso, who happens to be the president of our board, who is resigning at the end of June. This was a way of honoring his work and everything that he’s giving to the theater.”

Celona is taking what he calls a “baby steps” approach to reopening.

“The first show has maybe a third of the audience, and then the second show will bring in 50% of the audience, the third show three-quarters, so that we build up to 100%,” Celona said. “It’s not only for (audience) safety, but for our safety, to sort of know how to maneuver people in. Even though the state is saying everything is open, we’re still taking safety measures and precautions.

“For our dressing rooms, we built Plexiglas walls between each person, so they have their own little booths, if you will. That’s just a good safety feature to have in place anyway, even beyond COVID. We’re also making sure everyone working and onstage is vaccinated.”

Celona said he prides himself on being cautious and considerate.

“Numbers have been considered throughout,” expressed Celona. “Even in my full season (in 2021-2022), I’m easing in with the amount of people who are on the stage.”

“For our dressing rooms, we built Plexiglas walls between each person, so they have their own little booths, if you will. That’s just a good safety feature to have in place anyway, even beyond COVID. We’re also making sure everyone working and onstage is vaccinated.”

ron celona, cvrep’s founding artistic director

I asked Celona to talk a bit about that upcoming season.

“I always have a theme for my seasons, and my theme this year is ‘Hopes, Dreams and Expectations,’” Celona said. “My season is set; we begin on Nov. 9 with Bakersfield Mist by Stephen Sachs. It’s a two-person play in one act, and that’s a great way to start bringing in a full audience without an intermission where they have to go out and come back in and mingle. I only have two people who never leave the stage—so as long as they’re both vaccinated, I’ll be happy. That’s my way of easing into doing a play on the stage, with a singular set that doesn’t have to be moved in by a crew of six people.

“The second play, which is in January, is called Life x 3 by Yasmina Reza. That play is two couples—four people who are in the living room of this house for the whole play.”

As for the third show, Celona gave himself a challenge, he said.

“The third is our musical in March; now that was tricky,” he said. “Because most musicals have a large cast—dancing and singing—and my last musical had a huge orchestra onstage, I had to figure out how to have a simple show. I found a musical that was written for piano—the whole musical is written for one instrument. Now I can put bass and drums safely on that stage. The artists in the play are only four people, so I have a very small cast and musicians. It’s an open-air stage with no sets involved, so it’s going to be a simple, easy musical to do.”

Celona said his precautions regarding the 2021-2022 season have to do with both safety and financial prudence.

“Our last play is Native Gardens—again, a four-person play,” Celona said. “I did a play two years ago that had nine people in it, and a musical that had 20 people in it. I can’t do that from two points of view—not only from safety, but we have to be cautious financially. We don’t know how many people are going to come back.”

Because of that possible hesitancy from audiences, CVRep is planning on allowing people to watch the Summer Classical Music Series online as well as in person.

“It’s the first time that we’re doing anything virtual that we’re filming from our stage,” said Celona. “We have rented the theater out, and other people have filmed fundraisers on our stage, but we have never done it as a company. We’ve done virtual theater; we were the first ones to do it (locally), from April of last year to May of this year. We did a show every single week … and it was livestreamed through Zoom from wherever these (performers) were.”

Despite the caution and all of the unknowns, Celona said he was excited to have audiences back at CVRep for live shows.

“I miss it so—and I know that a lot of other people do as well,” he said.

CVRep’s Summer Classical Music Series will feature a classical piano performance by Victor Shlyakhtenko at 7 p.m., Thursday, June 24; tickets are $40. Opera singer Jacquelynne Fontaine will perform at 2 p.m., Sunday, July 25; tickets are $30. The shows are at the CVRep Playhouse, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Cathedral City. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit CVRep.org.

Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...