The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music preview: Ninth annual Opera in the Park this Saturday will incorporate texting donations for the first time as part of the fun | July 15, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

If Opera in Park (below) isn’t the single biggest and most ambitious live classical music event that takes place in Madison, it is hard to think of what is.

The ninth annual event – which will take place this Saturday at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side – will probably draw more than 13,000 people, depending on the weather and the program’s appeal. (The rain date is Sunday.)

As usual, the event -– put on by the Madison Opera -– will feature Madison Opera artistic director John DeMain conducting instrumentalists from the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera Chorus and four guests soloists who will be featured in the Madison Opera’s three shows during the upcoming season.

The repertoire  (use the link below) is also drawn from the Madison Opera’s new season, which offers Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” Kurt Weill’s “The Three-Penny Opera” and Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

In addition, the concert will celebrate the 80th birthday of Broadway titan Stephen Sondheim’s – whose credits include “West Side Story” – and the 50th anniversary of “The Sound of Music.” It will also feature a Donizetti aria that made Luciano Pavarotti famous for its 9 high C’s, plus Dvorak’s lovely “Song to the Moon” as well as selections from “Phantom of the Opera.”

For more information about the event, including parking, soloist biographies, history and repertoire, visit:

And here is an account from someone– a Madison Opera staff member — who works on the event:

Allan Naplan (below), the general director of the Madison Opera and the person in charge of Opera in the Park, recently spoke to The Ear about the event:

This is your sixth Opera in the Park. Is it still fun for you, John and the musicians?

Oh yeah. It’s very fun. This event is a tremendous experience from the planning and execution to the outcome, which has been such a big success. In a given season we get to choose three pieces for the season but for Opera in the Park, we have such a vast array of the entire repertoire to offer.

We get to show the full spectrum of opera and its evolution, including operetta and musical theater and Broadway. We really both experience the occasion as a chance to offer a full range of musical experience. If we can show that connection, that’s important.

I can’t speak for the orchestra musicians, but the principal singers are amazed every time they step out into the park and see 13,000 fans. It’s amazing and unheard of in most of their careers. There are a few opera companies that do concerts out-of-doors, but on a per-capita basis Madison is the biggest and has the highest percentage of attendance.

What about overall costs and logistics? Can you give readers some idea of the complexity of the event?

It costs more than $200,000 to put on. There is no ticket revenue so it is also balanced through contributions and extraordinary foundations and corporate supporters, which love to touch such a wide public.

It’s very complex to set up. We’re basically creating an actual theater in Garner Park. We have to bring in all the power, the lighting — for the safety of the audience, we use massive house floodlights as well as the stage lighting – and we have to bring in all the infrastructure, including the porta-potties, which increase every year. We are creating a theater park from scratch.

We usually get upwards of 13,000 people. To be able to sustain this number is wonderful, and I think we basically are doing that. With the remarkable retention, it is constantly growing. We’re filling the park right now and that is something we want to achieve. It’s like filling Overture Hall – there is a spirit that comes from performing for a capacity crowd.

Are there new things you have added?

The repertoire, of course, is new because it will reflect the new season. Other than that, the event is pretty well established by now.

Aside from repertoire, this year we will have donations by texting. You can text the word “Opera” to 20222 and a $10 donation will be made to the Opera in the Park fund. This has become a very popular method of making a contribution, whether for Haiti or other causes. People are so tied into mobile phones and don’t bring cash to the park.

The texting audience is vast and includes all ages, but it also attracts young people. Texting is so easy to do, it has become second nature to them.

Do have special messages or warning for those who attend?

Just to urge people to obey the usual rules of the park – no grills, no alcohol, no dogs. But we encourage picnic dinners and hope that families make a full evening out of it. The park opens at 7 a.m. and right at 7 a.m. there are people putting down their blankets for the performance.

How attentive do you find the crowd compared to other events or concerts?

It is very different from, say, Concerts on the Square. We start later. Performers feel they have the audience’s attention. The hillside slope of the park helps. Everyone is facing forward toward the stage, so you can’t help but be focused on the stage.

Plus, the human voice has a significant way of attracting attention that is different from an orchestral sound. It brings more personality to the expression of art and grasps someone’s attention.

How do audiences generally behave and react to the music?

It’s tremendous. We get very loud applause. And we typically sell about 7,000 light sticks. People love to participate in the performance, which includes a sing-along.

Next year is the 10th anniversary. Is Opera in the Park here to stay?

That’s our intention. But there is no ticket revenue, so it’s a hard thing to predict. It can never be a sure thing. If it has survived the last nine years, that’s a pretty good sign.

Does it help Madison Opera’s attendance during its regular season? Does it increase donations?

We’ll have about 250 people attending the pre-concert donation support dinner. It’s crucial. It’s key. It thanks generous supporters who make the event possible and provides an entry point for people to become associated with the Opera in the Park and with Madison Opera.

We receive many, many donations at and after Opera in the Park. We feel the impact resonates throughout the season and the year. A gift made in December may reflect having gone to Opera in the Part. We know that people buy tickets from the brochure for the regular season that will be available at the park. In the days and weeks after Opera in the Park, we will see a large number tickets sold.

Come the fall, people will remember Opera in the Park and that we previewed the season. So it has an impact. Next season we have very recognizable operas, but the impact is especially huge with unknown repertoire. We take it as a chance to celebrate Madison Opera.

If you go to Opera in the Park, let The Ear know about what you thought of it.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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