PICTURED: The Roaring Twenties serve as a backdrop for Opera Santa Barbara’s 2021 production of Don Pasquale, coming to the Ventura County Fairgrounds on April 10. Photo by Zach Mendez

by Emily Dodi

At long last, live! Concerts in Your Car returns to the Ventura County Fairgrounds with a slate of exciting events. Billed as “drive-in meets live entertainment,” the lineup of theater and music is the perfect way to take in a performance while remaining safely socially distanced.

Starting things off on April 10 is Opera Santa Barbara’s production of Gaetano Donizetti’s bel canto comedy Don Pasquale. Directed by Josh Shaw, founder of the acclaimed Pacific Opera Project, the production follows in POP’s tradition of putting a modern spin on classical operas, while holding onto the timeless heart and soul of the artform. This Don Pasquale features up-and-coming talent, a lively setting and a few surprises to keep audiences engaged and on their toes. Condensed to 90 minutes without an intermission, it is a must-see for opera newbies and diehards alike. 

The production is set in the Santa Barbara film industry of the 1920s, where the titular character is a film mogul looking for a comeback. 

“I wanted to do something that’s got some local flavor, so I decided to look at the early film industry here in Santa Barbara,” Shaw explained. 

He decided to make the titular character a film mogul who has seen better days. “The setup is that Donald Pasquale, as we call him, was big in the teens here in Santa Barbara. Now he’s older and out of the business … and he is trying to get back in. We bring in a lot of slapstick from that era,” he continued. “You can expect a lot of laughs and lots of great singing. It’s really great music and fun music. People can just relax and forget about things for 90 minutes.”

As Opera Santa Barbara’s Joyce Familara explains, Shaw was OSB’s obvious choice to direct Don Pasquale. “The last comedy we did was Barber of Seville with Josh as the director, so bringing him back was a natural choice. Josh is such a bold director. He’s really well-known for bold, innovative productions.” Familara adds that OSB is looking forward to returning to Ventura. “We’re excited to be back … It’s really important to the company that you have an opportunity to see live singers and have a good time doing it.”

Shaw directs a cast that includes tenor Matthew Greenblatt, soprano Jana McIntyre, bass Andrew Potter, baritone Efraín Solís and tenor Matthew Grills. OSB’s artistic and general director, Kostis Protopapas, conducts members of the OSB Orchestra.

After Don Pasquale’s one-night-only performance, Concerts in Your Car continues with a slate of “safe, in-your-car, outdoor in-the-round concerts.” Kicking things off is Ziggy Marley: A Live Tribute to His Father on April 17.  Ziggy Marley will be singing some of the best-loved music by his father, reggae legend Bob Marley, as well as some of his own hits. Next is Hippie Sabotage on April 24. “Rooted in electronic music … and taking cues from hip hop, psych rock and chill wave,” the L.A.-based Hippie Sabotage is brother duo Kevin and Jeff Saurer.

After Extreme Wrestling Lucha Libre smacks down on April 30, things lighten up considerably with Yächtley Crëw on May 1. The local band is known for its blend of “guilty pleasure” yacht rock, which is to say soft rock and power ballads of the 1970s and ‘80s, like “Brandy,” “Africa” and “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” to “sing along to at the top of your lungs.” 

Also on the schedule are Nelly and Baby Bash in concert on June 12. Nelly, the chart-topping, multi-award-winning rap artist, is known for his top hits “Hot in Herre,” “Dilemma” and more. Some of Baby Bash’s biggest hits are “Suga Suga,” and “Baby I’m Back.”  

Looking back on what last summer looked and felt like, here’s hoping Summer 2021 is safe, fun and lively. Concerts in Your Car is a great place to start.  

Don Pasquale takes place on Saturday, April 10, at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, complete lineup and more information, visit www.concertsinyourcar.com