Looking to stretch your family entertainment dollar during yet another period of economic uncertainty? Well, here’s some good news. The Washington National Opera is coming to your rescue with its fourth annual installment of “Opera in the Outfield” this Thursday evening at Washington Nationals Park. This year’s operatic offering is Giacomo Puccini’s romantic thriller, Tosca. And the price is right. It’s free.
Better yet, this performance features a stellar cast including popular soprano Patricia Racette in the title role of the much put-upon musical diva, Floria Tosca. A multiple-threat talent, Ms. Racette delighted local audiences a few seasons back by showing up at the Birchmere to surprise and delight the audience with an evening of cabaret songs, something she loves to do on the side. Operatically, she’s well known for her stirring portrayals of strong female characters.
Singing the role of Tosca’s ill-fated lover, artist and revolutionary Mario Cavaradossi, will be well-known tenor Frank Porretta. Another local fave, bass-baritone Alan Held, will sing the role of Puccini’s ultimate bad guy, Baron Scarpia. Mr. Held got his musical start here, appearing in Wolf Trap Opera productions in the late 1980s. He’s now a renowned superstar regular at the Met.
As an extra-added bonus, Plácido Domingo, WNO’s former general director, will be conducting this performance from the Opera House orchestra pit.
So how does WNO give you all of this for free?
From a technical standpoint, Thursday’s live performance of Tosca at the Kennedy Center Opera House will be simulcast via the magic of fiber optics to the Nationals’ massive, state-of-the-art scoreboard screen. Opera fanatics treasure the clarity of vocal sound in live performances. With three years of experience under their collective belts, sound technicians have been tweaking the stadium’s sound system to eliminate audio artifacts and echo effects to produce a sound that’s surprisingly clear even in an open-air environment.
From a monetary standpoint, Thursday’s simulcast is supported by WNO donors in partnership with the Washington Nationals. As an added boost, “Opera in the Outfield” is sponsored by McLean, Virginia-based Mars, Inc., specifically the company’s “m&m’s” brand.
Over the years, WNO has been canny in its choice of operas for these free outdoor events, all the better to get potential new opera fans to check out this oft-maligned musical genre. After all, opera was the precursor to our modern Broadway musicals.
Both Broadway and opera are versions of sung drama after all—extended, live, musical riffs on colorful tales of interesting characters confronting tragic or comic situations. The main difference is that opera music is usually more complex than in Broadway shows, with the orchestral line sometimes foretelling tragic developments even as our hero is singing a happy tune.
Which gets us back to Tosca.
Initially criticized for its lurid plot when the opera debuted in Rome in 1900, Tosca starts out as a romance between painter Mario Cavaradossi and Tosca, an internationally renowned vocalist. But it ends up as a tale of political intrigue and murder, driven by the evil Baron Scarpia’s desire to destroy Italian nationalists. And not coincidentally, to seduce Tosca as well while eliminating her boyfriend.
This was all tough stuff in 1900. And on stage, it seems pretty racy even today. But what redeems the whole shebang is Puccini’s ravishingly beautiful score, which includes Act I’s massive “Te Deum,” along with showy solos for Tosca in the second act and for Cavaradossi in the finale. Seasoned opera fans will enjoy this lavish period production, while opera newbies looking to sample something different will almost inevitably come away from the show as full-fledged Puccini fans.
How does “Opera in the Outfield” work logistically? If you’ve decided you’re good to go, you can do the Wolf Trap thing, bring a picnic and a blanket and find a nice spot in the outfield grass to take in the show which, in true theater tradition, will go on rain or shine.
One caveat: don’t bring chairs. As a WNO staffer told us last year, the Nats organization doesn’t want the outfield grass to get torn up.
If you want a real seat, you can take your pick of stadium seats. But a modest selection of the best seats, while still free, must be reserved in advance. For more information, click here.
If you don’t want to lug a picnic basket around, all stadium concessions will be available. That includes the ones that sell adult beverages. BTW, that’s the only way you can get your hands on said adult beverages. Bringing your own is strictly prohibited in Nationals Park, just as it is during baseball games.
Curtain time for the opera is 7:30 p.m. But the stadium will actually open with all services at 5:30 p.m. In addition, there’ll be a number of special family-friendly events taking place from the time the gates open until Maestro Domingo gives the opening downbeat.
Tosca itself is relatively short as operas go, running approximately two hours and fifty minutes, including a pair of 20-minute intermissions due to this production’s extensive scene changes. That’s plenty of time for catching bathroom breaks and refueling at the concession stands.
For those who plan to show up early, plenty of entertainment will be on tap. Featured events include:
- Live performances by local community youth groups from DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
- A screening of the best-ever cartoon opera spoof, Warner Brothers’ immortal “What’s Opera, Doc,” starring Elmer Fudd and that Oscar-winning rabbit, Bugs Bunny. Both deploy their dubious operatic talents to permanently deconstruct Wagner’s “Ring Cycle.”
- Also on tap: chances to win those proverbial “valuable prizes,” which include winning a VIP suite for Nats games next season and free tickets to select Kennedy Center performances during the 2011-2012 season. Free registration for these drawings is available through 11:59 p.m., September 19 (tonight) at this link:
Washington National Opera’s “Opera in the Outfield” featuring Puccini’s Tosca. Thursday, September 22, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. (but gates open at 5:30). Washington Nationals Park, 1500 South Capitol Street, SE, Washington, D.C.
Seating: Free, in the stands or on the outfield. For more detailed information, click here.
Getting there: Parking available in the area in the neighborhood of $10 per car. More details are here.
Better bet: Take the Metro. Closest stop is Navy Yard, just a short walk from the stadium.