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Madison's Opera in the Park will go online this summer

Madison's Opera in the Park will go online this summer

Opera in the Park 2016

Madison Opera general director Kathryn Smith said "we try to have singers from the upcoming season as much as possible" perform at Opera in the Park and that the annual event "winds up being almost the thing that all of our singers wind up having in common at some point." 

Madison’s Opera in the Park is the latest big summer event to undergo big changes due to coronavirus concerns. But while other events like Marquette Waterfront Festival have been canceled outright, Madison Opera officials announced Tuesday that Opera in the Park will move online.

“Sharing music under the stars is a highlight of every summer, but the health and safety of our community is our first priority,” said Kathryn Smith, the opera’s general director, in a press release. “After careful discussion with local officials and stakeholders, we have decided to take the necessary step of moving from an in-person performance this summer to a digital one.”

What that opera will actually look like is still under discussion. Smith said details of the digital performance will be firmed up in May and June, with details announced in early July. The 19th annual concert had been scheduled for July 25 in Garner Park, and each year the event draws an estimated 10,000 people.

Opera in the Park has always served as a sneak preview of sorts for the upcoming Madison Opera season, and this year’s event will be no exception. Soloists who will participate in the digital performance include soprano Karen Slack, who returns to Madison Opera as Leonora in “Il Trovatore” this fall; soprano Jasmine Habersham, who makes her Madison Opera debut in “The Marriage of Figaro” next April; and baritone Weston Hurt, who sang Germont in “La Traviata” last season and returns as Count di Luna in “Il Trovatore” next fall.

Even though viewers will have to stay home and social distance from each other, there’s nothing preventing them from enjoying the opera while sitting outside in their backyards, enjoying a little wine and cheese, and waving their light sticks just as they would have together in Garner Park.

“While nothing will ever equal the magic of Opera in the Park when the hillside is full of people,” Smith said, “I know we can create something special to share, using the power of music to connect us even when we cannot gather in person. We look forward to returning to Garner Park next summer, and seeing a full display of everyone’s light-stick conducting skills.”

The coronavirus pandemic had already affected the Opera, shutting down the production of “Orpheus in the Underworld” that was to be performed at Overture Hall last month. Smith told arts writer Lindsay Christians that the production will likely be performed during the 2021-22 season, and told the creative team to save their scores, keep costumes that had already been fitted, and hang on to the lighting designs.

[Closed by coronavirus, Madison's performing arts adapt]

Going forward, the Opera has announced three new productions for the 2020-21 year. Smith said that arts organizations like hers will have no choice but to pivot to new technologies to embrace their audiences during these uncertain times, such as the change in plans for Opera in the Park.

“Every place will be different. I think we’ll make mistakes along the way,” she said. “I think people want what we have. People want the art. How that pivots and whether it’s a permanent pivot, or whether it’s for a year and everyone will want to go back to Shakespeare and Mozart — I don’t know.”

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Rob Thomas is the features editor and social media editor for the Capital Times, as well as its film critic. He joined the Cap Times in 1999 and has written about movies, music, food and books.

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