A small audience on Saturday experienced something that has been impossible for months: They watched a concert in person at the Kennedy Center. Vanessa Williams and Renée Fleming performed more than a dozen numbers under the musical direction of Rob Mathes, including a song Andrew Lippa wrote for the occasion, “The Diva.”
The 40-person audience entered the Opera House through loading doors at the front of the arts center and sat on the stage while the musicians performed on a platform that was constructed over orchestra seating.
The Kennedy Center streamed the concert as well, charging $15 per pass. Two thousand, four hundred people paid to stream the concert, Kennedy Center spokesperson Brendan Padgett tells Washingtonian–more than the Opera House can fit for a single performance. The center plans future in-person concerts as part of the “On Stage at the Opera House” series: Musicians from the National Symphony Orchestra will perform on October 2, the Jazz Gallery All-Stars on October 8, the Dover Quartet and the Escher Quartet on October 20, and another NSO musicians gig on October 30. You’ll have to attend virtually if you’re interested—in-person seats are already sold out.
Performance venues have been clobbered by the coronavirus pandemic. Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter said earlier this year that the center expected to lose at least $45 million this year. Things haven’t been any easier for smaller venues. Audrey Fix Schaefer, the spokesperson for local concert giant I.M.P., wrote in the Washington Post this summer that the pandemic has acted like a “vacuum cleaner to your bank account.” DC announced Friday that it plans a pilot program at six live indoor music venues, including the Kennedy Center. Shows would be limited to 50 people, including venue staff, performers, and audience members.