Six weeks since California implemented stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of COVID-19, restrictions have brought on a host of issues, ranging from boredom to severe stress and anxiety. Amid such uncertainty, an opera singer has found a way to deal with her own lockdown issues, bringing joy to her neighbors at the same time.
On April 23, local opera singer Victoria Robertson gave a fantastic, if unusual, Easter Sunday performance. The soprano stepped onto the rose-covered entrance to her craftsman cottage in North Park, San Diego, in full hair, makeup, and concert regalia.
She sang arias, hymns, and popular tunes for 20 minutes, accompanied by backing tracks played on a speaker. The opera singer sang beautifully, and her voice, not needing a microphone, carried out onto the street.
After a planned Easter get-together with the neighbors fell through due to quarantine protocols, the opera singer had decided to put on a show. She was inspired by the people singing from their balconies in Europe as they too, stayed at home in lockdown.
Robertson recalled, “I was quite overcome looking down on my neighbors spread out all the way down the block with their masks on. It was one of the most moving performance experiences I have ever had.”
Robertson is the founder of VR Productions, which makes videos for the travel industry, and Opera4Kids, a San Diego arts education nonprofit. She began her career singing with the chorus of the San Diego Opera for 12 years, and then solo for the San Diego Symphony and La Jolla Symphony.
She has performed in venues in the US and across the world, including the USO as Miss USO San Diego, on the flight decks of the aircraft carriers USS John C. Stennis and USS Abraham Lincoln, at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, and at an air base in Thule, Greenland, 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
In contrast, Robertson’s latest stage is the 6-by-14-foot concrete balcony porch of her 1920s home. “I’ve rented this house for 17 years, and in all those 17 years, I’ve always wanted to have the guts to stand on my porch and just unleash my voice,” the opera singer said. “But even though we (vocalists) give ourselves permission to do that on the stage, we’re often shy to do that in normal situations.”
Robertson stated that the performances are a relief from the monotony of the lockdown – both for her neighbors and herself. The opera singer shared, “The reason that I decided to do this is probably the same reason people like to come. It’s nice to break up the weeks, maybe months of this quarantine. So there’s something little to look forward to every week that gives that sort of relief from the monotonous day-to-day.”
Since then, she has been giving free Sunday performances at noon, which give her a chance to practice as well as lift up the spirits of the community. “Live music is so important to people,” Robertson said. “Artists have lost their performance contracts, but that does not mean that someone with a gift should not use it to lift people up and enhance their lives just a little.”
Robertson dubbed her concert series “Separate But Together,” and staged “Puccini at Noon” on April 19, featuring “Tosca,” “La bohème,” “Gianni Schicchi,”and “O sole mio.” Again, the opera singer’s efforts were warmly received. “There were about 30 people last Sunday and at least 100 today, so I’m sure there will be more next week,” said Jo McClenny, who sat in her front yard with her daughter, Amanda, and two friends.
Two other neighbors, Derek Wilton and Loli Wescott, were back with lawn chairs to better enjoy the concert. Wilton, who described the opera singer’s voice as “angelic,” said, “We’ve never met her or heard her practice.” Wescott added, “I had no idea she sang like that.” Ken Moser, one of Robertson’s voice students, watched from his Volkswagen. “I drove here from Mira Mesa,” he said. “I live alone and work at home, and I was just going stir-crazy. It was great to be able to come and hear this today.”
Roberston sang with such clarity that some neighbors didn’t even have to leave their homes to enjoy the opera. Ellen Goodwin and her husband Chris Collette enjoyed the musical from porch of their home, which was around the corner and a block away. Collette said, “It sounded beautiful. Our neighbor, Dutch, walked over to Villa Terrace to hear her today. When he came back, he had a tear in his eye.”
Robertson enjoyed the festivity of the second concert. She mused, “The Easter Sunday concert was really emotional, because people felt suppressed. Today was more like a celebration. (With this pandemic), people don’t get to hear live music, so it’s really nice to do it.”
On April 26, around 200 people lined the street and sidewalk of Robertson’s house. They wore masks, stood around 6 feet apart, and enjoyed Puccini arias and a wonderful rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
Robertson’s performances can be seen on her YouTube channel and donations are welcome through Venmo at @v_sings. “I’ve been keeping my porch concerts short, but now I’ll make them longer because I’m getting into it and people like them,” she said. The opera singer plans to continue the concerts until coronavirus social restrictions are eased.
Enjoy Robertson’s glorious voice in the video below: