ENO partner with ADI to deliver World’s First Fully Staged Drive-In Opera

ADI supply technical event production for a unique drive-in experience at Alexandra Palace

English National Opera chose ADI to support them in creating the world’s first fully staged drive-in opera, ENO Drive & Live at Alexandra Palace (19th-27th September 2020). This ambitious outdoor project saw performances of Puccini’s La Bohème take place outside the iconic Ally Pally, providing UK audiences with live opera for the first time since March. ADI supported ENO in delivering the unique drive-in experience by providing a complete event production solution, incorporating staging, structures, LED screens, lighting, OB and cameras.

world-first for opera

The COVID pandemic has been nothing short of a catastrophe for the arts industry, bringing a complete halt to theatrical productions and leaving the jobs of hundreds of thousands hanging in the balance.  The ‘drive-in’ concept has brought some respite for the wider cinematic, music and even comedy sectors; now English National Opera have embraced the open-air format for its production of Puccini’s La Boheme, taking place not in their natural home – The London Coliseum – but instead in the grounds of Alexandra Palace.

Despite the creative and technical challenges of delivering fully-staged performances beyond their usual venue, ENO in partnership with ADI achieved the huge feat of transforming a car park at Alexandra Palace into a fully-featured outdoor theatre on a vast scale.

It was clear from the outset that ADI understood what we wanted to achieve, and they were both enthusiastic and knowledgeable in their support for ENO making this tremendous statement for the live arts sector. Moving production from the London Coliseum to a car park could have been quite daunting, but thankfully that wasn’t the case! The ADI team have been brilliant to work with and helped make a challenging concept achievable and seamless for ENO, culminating in spectacular live performances that were incredibly well received by audiences, media and the wider industry.

covid-secure performance

The COVID-secure production has been met with critical acclaim by many, with the 16 live performances hosting many sell-out audiences. Attendees were able to enjoy the visually spectacular and emotive experience from the comfort of their own vehicle, Uber box or bike. Performances took place both on stage and on the ground in order to put opera fans at the heart of the action, but from a safe distance.

Even the performance itself was tailored to current COVID guidelines, with a shortened 90-minute version to avoid an intermission. All cast and crew adhered to social distancing – apart from two that are romantically involved – and two separate “bubbles” of performers were rotated across the live show dates.

unique production project

Given this was ENO’s first foray into large-scale outdoor productions they commissioned ADI to apply their expertise and turn a vision into reality. It was essential to retain the exceptional production values created at the London Coliseum, and reimagine them for a ‘drive-in’ audience. To achieve this ADI worked closely with ENO’s Technical Director, Lighting Director, Stage Designer, Audio Designer and Production Managers to design and build a raised stage solution with full theatre lighting rig. Importantly, this also featured high resolution 4.6mm 45sqm LED screens on the wings to offer image magnification and coverage for up to 100 vehicles.

Clearly audio is an all-important part of the opera experience, and the traditional drive-in solution of delivering it over car radio signal was chosen, supported by a venue-wide wireless system.

ADI supported ENO in successfully translating a fully-staged operatic production to a drive-in format. They’ve been brave enough to really push the boundaries for Opera, which is a hugely positive story for the industry as a whole, at time when it’s been terribly affected by the COVID pandemic. We’ve worked closely with ENO over a number of months to evolve this concept and it’s been fantastic to see it come together so successfully. This has been an opportunity to showcase the project management capabilities we have at ADI – we’ve taken responsibility for the complete event production, including not only the LED element we are traditionally known for, but staging, structures, lighting and event broadcast. We’re fortunate to have brought together a great team of people so it’s been a real pleasure to work on and ENO have been a wonderful client to work with.

custom stage, screen and structures

The 385 sqm stage was designed with integrated ramps to allow multiple vehicles – including vintage VW campervans and convertibles – to drive on and off stage as part of the performance, while a separate double-storey structure was incorporated upstage to host the award-winning 40-person ENO orchestra. Interestingly, an extremely valuable and heavy harp used in the orchestra had to be taken up and down from this structure in-between performances, which had to be done on a scissor lift.

ADI also co-ordinated the build of two-storey towers either side of the auditorium and in the front of house position which housed follow-spots directed at principal performers on stage, with the FOH tower hosting cameras, audio and further lighting fixtures.

ob and camera solution

The outside broadcast solution from ADI was extensive; creating a live screen mix for the large LED screens in the wings and also delivering video feeds to the Sky Arts OB team for their live broadcast (which took place on the 23rd September). Seven different cameras – including GoPro’s – offered a variety of footage for inclusion on the audience-facing screens and the Sky Arts programme.

In spite of the current landscape for the Arts and live events sector, it’s fantastic to help bring a world-first project to life, and to do so with such a respected company like ENO. ADI’s outdoor event and technical expertise has helped achieve ENO’s creative vision and bring the joy of live opera back to UK audiences at such a critical time. We’ve been able to support them by taking the role of technical production partner to deliver an all-encompassing solution across multiple elements of the event, and we’re thrilled it’s created a resounding success for ENO


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