This year's Opera in the Park - on Saturday night in Garner Park - brought together an unusually fine group of guest soloists, all with excellent voices and seasoned experience.
Some of them are slated to appear in the Madison Opera productions this coming season, so samplings of their roles, and of the operas in question, were important priorities.
Three excerpts from Mozart's Don Giovanni displayed bass Matt Boehler, who will sing Leporello, and soprano Caitlin Lynch, who will portray Donna Elvira. Boehler demonstrated not only a firm voice but a lively theatrical sense - which he milked in a later solo stint as the Major General of The Pirates of Penzance. Lynch sang arias by Handel and Puccini.
There were two excerpts from Verdi's Ballo in Maschera, one of which displayed local soprano Caitlin Cisler, in an anticipation of her portrayal of the page Oscar. Those excerpts also gave a spotlight to tenor Russell Thomas, a singer who, if slightly limited in nuances, has stentorian power and sheen. He appeared also in an aria from Verdi's Rigoletto.
Mezzo-soprano Emily Fons was quite fetching in the Violin aria from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann. She and the other soloists joined variously in ensembles from Hoffmann (the barcarolle) and Rigoletto (the famous quartet). The company's chorus was given two features of its own, the opening chorus from Mascagni's rarity, Iris, and the notorious Anvil Chorus from Verdi's "Il Trovatore". It also gave backing elsewhere.
The visiting singers each had solos in the inevitable section of Broadway bits: items from Brodzky's The Toast of New Orleans (Thomas), from Bock's She Loves Me (Fons), from Loewe's Brigadoon (Fons, Boehler), and from Kern's Showboat (Lynch). Everybody got together for the finale from Bernstein's Candide.
The conductor this time, subbing for absent John DeMain, was Gary Thor Wedow.
What overshadowed this year's event was the extreme exaggeration that the amplification system has reached by now. Provided by facilities apparently used to servicing rock concerts, the volume level was constantly ear-splitting, while the bass frequencies were pushed down to earthquake levels - the sort of gummy thunder that passes my house every day on car radios. The result was to make the double basses the dominating part of the orchestra.
Granted, for so vast an outdoor audience as Opera in the Park commands, amplification is essential. But, as carried this far, it is counterproductive. The sublime climax of the Candide finale was turned into disorganized screeching. And serious injustice is done to fine singers when their work is cast into sound that is, quite frankly, painful.