Madison Opera's seventh annual Opera in the Park was a lively show that reportedly drew over 13,000 people.
The generous, diverse program featured four singers, each with two or more solos. Their voices are attractive and strong, but strength was too often their primary aim.
Baritone Luis Ledesma hammed and bellowed through the "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Barber of Seville, and blasted out the Mexican song "Granada." Tenor Bryan Hymel competed inelegantly for decibels in an aria from Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, assaulted the Viennese chestnut "Dein ist mein ganzes herz" (by Lehár), and bid to become the next Pavarotti with "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot - mercifully chaperoned by the retained choral part.
Of the ladies, soprano Melody Moore has a firm, rich voice, backed by fine technique and theatrical flair, but showing weak diction in the three languages she allegedly sang. Her solos were "Un bel di vedremo" from Madama Butterfly, the Czardas (in English!) from Richard Strauss' Die Fledermaus, and "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. Even with only two solos, mezzo-soprano Kendall Gladen showed both enterprise and artistry in the Composer's aria from Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos; her second number was, disappointingly, a torch song from Showboat, but she made that sound like music. I'd like to hear more of her.
To promote Madison Opera's upcoming productions, the soloists paired variously in duets from Madama Butterfly, Faust and Così Fan Tutte - that of the two sisters from the last opera done with particular charm by Moore and Gladen.
The chorus rightly had its own slots, with the "Anvil Chorus" from Il Trovatore, the waltz-song from Faust and an adaptation of a chorus from Gershwin's politically satiric musical Let 'Em Eat Cake - appropriate to an election year, but with substitute words that were mostly unintelligible, plus lots of silly miming downstage.
The orchestra played with typical polish and power under John DeMain's knowing leadership, opening with the overture to Verdi's Nabucco and later giving as a bouncy novelty the overture to a Spanish operetta (by Gimenez). But the chance for a truly grand finale, with all hands on deck, was wasted on a vacuous ensemble from the musical Ragtime.
Whether or not more converts were made to opera is unclear, but the crowds enjoyed the proceedings, and Madison Opera again showed that, among our summer outdoor events, and unlike Concerts on the Square, Opera in the Park really is essentially about music.