You’d really like to go to the opera, but you’ve always thought it was too expensive, right? Well, here’s your big chance to try out this wonderful, over-the-top art form for free. The Washington National Opera (WNO) is holding its third annual “Opera in the Outfield” production Sunday, September 19, at 2 p.m. in—where else—Washington Nationals Park via simulcast. On tap: WNO’s current production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball).
“Our free simulcasts are Washington National Opera’s gift to the city and to the public, in great thanks for all their support,” said Plácido Domingo, General Director of Washington National Opera. He’s especially grateful to the event’s main sponsor, Target, as well as additional corporate backers including the Mars Corporation of Vienna Virginia, ABC7/WJLA-TV, Metro (WMATA), DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the Washington Nationals themselves.
Sunday’s matinee performance of A Masked Ball at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House will be beamed live in HD via fiber optics to the Nationals’ giant, state-of-the-art scoreboard screen in Southeast DC. It’s currently among the largest in the country, measuring 4,811 square feet. And the sound should be superb, judging from previous opera performances in the stadium. Sound will have been pre-adjusted to eliminate echoes and bring out the vocals loud and clear and without distortion.
As for the opera itself, A Masked Ball, one of Verdi’s most famous, is the fictionalized story of 18th century Swedish King Gustav III, his ill-fated love affair with the wife of his closest friend, and the political infighting that finally brings him down. (Sounds like a story that could unfold in DC even today.)
WNO’s cast includes noted Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra as King Gustavus, Italian baritone Luca Salsi as his onetime best-pal, Count Anckarström, and American soprano Tamara Wilson as Amelia. The production is directed by James Robinson and conducted by Daniele Callegari. It’s sung in the original Italian, but not to worry. English supertitles are projected above the Opera House stage. If you can’t quite see those, subtitles will also be projected on the Nationals’ scoreboard.
Opera fans and opera newbies alike can bring a picnic and a blanket and plunk down in the outfield grass to enjoy the show, along with the perfect late summer that WNO’s Director of Artistic Operations Christina Scheppelmann, Director of Artistic Operations, virtually guarantees. “We run on a strict schedule,” she says, “and rain is not on our schedule. Therefore, it’s not going to happen.”
Music lovers can also grab a seat in the stands. Whether there or in the outfield, all seats are free and tickets aren’t required except for a small group of reserved seats. (Details below.) If you plan to camp out in the grass, there’s one caveat according to Ms. Scheppelmann: “Don’t bring chairs of any kind,” she said. “That’s the only thing.” Understandably, the ball club doesn’t want to risk the grass getting torn up. And, of course, the infield is completely off limits.
Those not planning to bring their own gourmet picnics? Not a problem. “All concessions will be open,” said Ms. Scheppelmann, including those that sell adult beverages.
While the opera doesn’t begin until 2 p.m., “pre-game” festivities, including the concession stands, will open around noon and will also continue during the opera’s two 20-minute intermissions. (The show is slightly over three hours in length including the intermissions.)
Families are encouraged to come early and join in the fun. Activities include raffles, a tee-shirt toss, photo-ops with Nationals mascot Screech and a Mars M&M commercial character, and a picnic contest sponsored by ABC7/WJLA-TV. Prizes, giveaways and raffle items will include opera ticket packages, baseball tickets, and Target gift cards.
New this year—the Family Fun Zone, with entertainment and activities for children, including mask-making, a playground, and a costume trunk. ABC7/WJLA-TV news anchor Cynné Simpson will emcee.
One of this year’s highlights is WNO’s “Take Me Out to the Opera” songwriting contest. As of this writing, alas, it’s already too late to send an entry. But Plácido Domingo himself will choose the final three winners, announcing them during the opera’s second intermission, aka the “Seventh Aria Stretch,” live from New York where he’s currently in rehearsal with the Met. Each winner gets a prize package, and the grand prize recipient will hear his or her song sung by all in attendance—or at least those who can sing.
The expected crowd for Sunday’s opera event could range from 15,000 to 20,000, bigger than last year’s. In addition to promising good weather, WNO feels that this matinee performance—unlike all the previous outdoor opera performances which were held in the evening—will prove more family-friendly and encourage a larger turnout.
Washington National Opera’s “Opera in the Outfield” featuring Verdi’s A Masked Ball. Sunday, September 19, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. The gates open at noon. Washington Nationals Park, 1500 South Capitol Street, SE, Washington, D.C.
Seating: Free, in the stands or on the outfield. For more information or to register for free space in a reserved seating section, visit www.OperaintheOutfield.org or call the “Opera in the Outfield Hotline,” (202) 572-3057.
Getting there: Parking available in the area for $10. Better bet: Take the Metro. Closest stop is the Navy Yard.