By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 17, 2009
Get your Cracker Jack now, because "Barber" is going to the ballpark. The Washington National Opera announced Monday that for the second straight year, the company's opening-night performance -- this year, "The Barber of Seville" on Sept. 12 -- will be simulcast live at Nationals Park, free of charge.
Last year's simulcast of "La Traviata," the first such broadcast at the stadium, was planned within a matter of weeks and drew about 15,000 people. The stadium offers obvious advantages over the Mall (where the company broadcast three previous operas): a built-in screen, optional stadium seating in addition to picnic blankets on the playing field and, of course, concessions. Planning for this year's simulcast began virtually as soon as last year's event was over.
Planning, in this context, means simply seeking funding in straitened economic times for an event that last year cost about $300,000. WNO has assembled a colorful patchwork of sponsors, many donating services rather than money: Target, the Mars Corp., the Washington Nationals, WMATA and MarcParc Valet, ABC 7/NewsChannel 8 and WETA radio (90.9 FM).
For Target, sponsoring opera -- the event's official name is "Target Free Opera in the Outfield" -- is perfectly in keeping with the corporate policy of putting an affordable twist on luxury goods. Indeed, opera is a logical enough extension for a chain that made such a success of its collaboration with its erstwhile partner Isaac Mizrahi, who made his Metropolitan Opera debut, as a costume designer, in 2008 with "Orfeo ed Euridice."
Certainly, WNO is eager to emphasize the evening's populist tone. Mark Weinstein, the company's executive director, called it "the most important public-access event WNO offers, and reinforces the company's longstanding commitment to the community." And in a statement, Plácido Domingo, WNO's general director, called "The Barber of Seville" "the most popular comic opera of all time" and "one of the very best operas for young people, families and first-time opera-goers."
Although Domingo has tried out the baritone role of Figaro in the past, he is not performing on the 12th; Simone Alberghini will take the title role, with Silvia Tro Santafé as Rosina and Lawrence Brownlee, the newly ubiquitous American tenor, as Count Almaviva. Michele Mariotti conducts.
Live ballpark opera is one manifestation of the ongoing efforts by opera companies to broadcast opera in as many ways as possible, from town squares (on Aug. 9, the Wagner festival in Bayreuth, Germany, broadcast its "Tristan und Isolde" live to a crowd variously estimated at between 10,000 and 40,000 people, as well as a contingent watching online) to movie theaters (the Metropolitan Opera begins its fourth season of HD broadcasts with "Tosca" on Oct. 10). WNO is certainly not the only American company to mingle opera and baseball. The San Francisco Opera has done three simulcasts at the ballpark since 2007; its "Tosca," in June, drew 27,000 people, and it will offer "Il Trovatore" on Sept. 19.
The Barber of Seville will begin at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, at Nationals Park. The park will open at 5:30 p.m. with various "pregame" activities.