The soprano Renée Fleming sauntered onstage in a shimmering long-sleeve gown, perched on a chair and started to sing.
For a renowned performer decades into her career, it might have been an uneventful Wednesday evening at the Shed, the expansive performance space in Hudson Yards. But after 13 months in a pandemic, a sea of faces was a novel sight for the opera star and the trio accompanying her.
“Wow, applause!” she remarked after finishing the meditative opening number. “Very exciting.”
Exciting, indeed — and no mean feat to pull off.
After the Shed and other flexible New York performance spaces lobbied to let audiences in, it got the go-ahead to open its doors for a live event on April 2, after 386 days of shutdown. Fleming’s April 21 show there, before a limited audience, was the fourth performance in a series co-sponsored by NY PopsUp, a public-private program aimed at reviving the arts.
acted in a play during the Shed’s opening season, wouldn’t be left completely untended: Bottled water, tea bags and a kettle would be in her dressing room.
Alex Poots, the Shed’s chief executive, had one big announcement to share with the staff. The venue had not received state permission to expand the size of the audience. In the days leading up to the concert, the Shed had asked to double capacity from 150 to 300, which would still only be a fraction of the roughly 1,200 people the McCourt, its largest performance space, can seat.
But the state had essentially told them: Not so fast.
The concert had sold out in two hours. Audience members who did secure tickets had already received the first of four emails explaining the coronavirus protocols they would need to follow.
Gone was the chance to rush to a concert after work and plop down into your seat as the curtain rose. Before they entered the Shed, concertgoers would need to check one of three boxes: show proof of full vaccination; demonstrate a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of the event; or have taken a rapid antigen test, which is less reliable, within six hours of showtime.
This was such a jumble of rules and dates that the front-of-house staff would be provided printed cheat sheets for the day of the show.
Bill Frisell was surrounded by piles of sheet music — some Handel, some Stephen Foster — laid out on the dining room table and the living room floor of his Brooklyn home. He was writing out his parts in pencil, referencing a list of songs that Fleming had sent to him, the bassist Christian McBride, and the pianist Dan Tepfer.