In all, it was the most musically satisfying Opera in the Park show I can remember.
The roster of four soloists was unusually strong: Sopranos Caitlin Cisler and Alexandra LoBianco, tenor Brian Jagde, and baritone Nmon Ford all offered powerful singing that was well suited to outdoor projection.
A delving into Wagner was a bit of a byway for this company, but conductor John DeMain showed that his Madison Symphony players could brighten the skies with the "Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walküre. Then LoBianco gave a sturdy outdoor greeting to an indoor venue from Tannhäuser with "Dich, teure Halle." The well-drilled Madison Opera Chorus was given its own chance to shine in the drinking chorus from Verdi's Otello, and, of course, the chorus also backed the soloists in some numbers along the way.
The year 2013 marks the bicentenary of the births of both Wagner and Verdi, so the latter was given further play in two solo items, a tenor aria from Macbeth, and the aria of rage and pleading by Rigoletto's title character.
Then the program settled into its recurrent job of previewing the 2013-14 season for Madison Opera. From Donizetti's La fille du regiment (the midseason offering in February), Cisler sang a scintillating aria for that title character. There were two selections from Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking (the April production), which included members of the Madison Youth Choirs. Unfortunately, they did not seem to represent the more musically and theatrically rewarding segments to be found in the score.
And the first part of the program ended with two excerpts: Cavaraodossi's "Recontita armonia" and the "Te Deum" finale of Act I, with Scarpia's scheming monologue, both from Puccini's Tosca (the November opener, in which Ford will sing this role).
More Puccini launched the program's second half, with LoBianco delivering a formidable "In questa regia" from Turandot and "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi, followed by a richly romantic rendering of Madama Butterfly's Act I duet, sung by LoBianco and Jagde.
Then came the traditional shift to Broadway, led off by Ford doing a richly sly "It Ain't Necessarily So" from Gershwi's Porgy and Bess. This led into two excerpts from Leonard Bernstein's clever score for Candide. Cisler was more dazzling than ever in the showpiece "Glitter and be gay." LoBianco was ripely spirited in "I am so easily assimilated." Jagde was not shown to much advantage in "It Only Takes a Moment" from Hello, Dolly! but Ford shone again in "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" from Loesser's Guys and Dolls.
A vigorous rendition of the "Brindisi" from Verdi's La traviata served as the final number and then the encore as well. In all, it was the most musically satisfying Opera in the Park show I can remember, and one more tribute to the talents of DeMain and Madison Opera's director, Kathryn Smith.