Puccini in the pandemic: La Jolla opera singer brightens stay-at-home time for her neighbors

Professional opera singer Alina Mullen performs for her neighbors from her balcony in La Jolla on May 8.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Professional opera singer Alina Mullen has performed all over the world. But for a couple of recent concerts, she had to go no farther than her La Jolla balcony.

She wanted to do something to “lift people’s spirits from being so mired in all the negative news” of the coronavirus pandemic.

So, Mullen, who sang Puccini arias for the Torrey Pines Elementary School Foundation’s virtual gala May 2, took to her balcony a few weeks ago to sing at sunset.

“I didn’t know what everyone’s response would be,” she said.

She sang arias by Verdi that night and said “a couple of people did end up coming out, and they asked if I would please do it again and specify a time so neighbors could come and, responsibly and socially distanced, enjoy the music.”

The arias “just brightened everybody’s mood,” Mullen said. “In our neighborhood, we have a lot of elderly who aren’t able to get out as much. I thought it would be a good opportunity to ... offer something that could pick up people’s spirits as well as my own.”

On May 8 she was back on her balcony for another concert. This one began with an aria from Dvořák’s “Rusalka,” followed by two by Puccini and one from Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

Music played through her Bluetooth speaker.

The road outside Mullen’s house was peppered with about 40 people, who stood standing in family groups several feet apart, all of them masked and many with phones to record the performance. Others were on their balconies, and next-door neighbor Lettie Ponomareff said many more were listening unseen.

Neighbors line up to hear Alina Mullen sing from her balcony in La Jolla.
Neighbors line up to hear Alina Mullen sing from her balcony in La Jolla.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“People don’t have to come out; they’ve told me they hear and enjoy it from their backyards a couple streets away,” she said.

“I think she’s just great,” Ponomareff said. “The first night, I heard her sing and six other people did. I passed it on to the neighborhood and we had another showing. I was so glad that she did this for us.”

Mullen moved to La Jolla with her husband and three young children in August to be closer to her parents-in-law. Before motherhood, she sang opera in places around the globe.

She started her singing career in Minnesota after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in vocal performance from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and the Cleveland Institute of Music, respectively.

Mullen sang with the Cleveland Opera, Minnesota Opera and opera houses throughout the Midwest before moving to New York, where she sang with smaller companies and in competitions, she said.

Mullen then began performing at opera festivals in Europe and in competitions in Italy, Germany, France, Tanzania and Kenya, she said. “It was amazing.”

Neighbor Marianne Pekos said she hopes Mullen’s home concerts will continue.

“Her voice is just lovely,” Pekos said. “This is a lovely gift to share with people.”◆