Opera in the Park 2010 could not have happened on a better evening. Although ominous clouds settled over Garner Park just before the show started Saturday night, Mother Nature cooperated and held off the rain until after an estimated 14,000 opera fans and newcomers (the largest crowd ever) took up their picnic baskets and headed home.
The repertoire for Madison Opera's ninth summer in the park featured arias from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Weill's The Threepenny Opera and Verdi's La Traviata -- all operas the group will perform this coming season. Broadway hits and a special tribute to Stephen Sondheim, who celebrated his 80th birthday this year, made a jazzy mix.
The Madison Symphony Orchestra opened the show with the bright, snappy overture from The Marriage of Figaro. Short rapid phrases of the first few measures set the mood, and conductor John DeMain and the MSO gave them the right combination of pizzazz and elegance.
Baritone Stephen Powell followed with Figaro's "Non piu andrai," the second aria from act one. Figaro warns Cherubino, the Count's philandering page, that in the army he will have no women to chase. This aria is tricky to do out of context, because comedy complements the singing to a great degree. I liked Powell's understated and humorous rendition. Powell has a smooth baritone that is soft around the edges. His "Edelweiss" in the second half of the program was a highlight of the evening.
"Sull'aria" from Figaro blended the golden tones of soprano Barbara Shirvis with the silvery hues of soprano Anya Matanovic. In Verdi's "Ah fors' e lui...Sempre libera," Matanovic sang a sweet recitative and some hair-raising high notes that brought on shouts of "you go, girl!" Matanovic is a Madison native and will play Susanna in the Madison Opera's production of The Marriage of Figaro this fall.
Soprano Barbara Shirvis was superb in "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Rusalka. Her pacing and phrasing were sensual and brought out the organic undercurrent so common in Dvorak's work. She lent an easy sultriness to Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns."
"Ah, mes amis" from Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment is a difficult aria with nine high Cs that come in rapid-fire succession. Tenor Rodrick Dixon sang it amazingly well, but it took its toll on his ability to sing other arias. Many tenors opt out of singing the high Cs altogether. I liked the cool ambience of Dixon's performance of "Lonely House" from Weill's Street Scene. And Dixon and Powell were an awesome twosome in "Mack the Knife," Weill and Brecht's witty, fingerpoppin' song about dark deeds and pitiful has-beens.
There was much more -- romantic duets, children singing "Do-Re-Mi," a little Puccini and a dazzling stage. The Madison Opera Chorus, the MSO, singers, announcers, the assembled citizens and Mother Nature herself were in sync. Allan Naplan, general director of the Madison Opera, teamed up with WKOW27 news anchor Diana Henry and Mayor Cieslewicz to make us feel at home. We left full to the brim with good music and the joy of community. Life doesn't get much better.