By Saturday evening the morning rain had dried, and a gentle breeze ushered Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera's new general director, on stage. Alongside WKOW-Channel 27's John Beard, she welcomed yet another great Madison crowd that filled the grass amphitheater of Garner Park for Opera in the Park 2011.
Smith moved here this month from her position as general director of the Tacoma Opera. She and artistic director John DeMain put together a show that highlighted the romantic side of opera and Broadway. The audience cheered love duets, and the evening ended with Johann Strauss's "Sing to Love."
The overture to Cinderella opened the evening with that special mix of serious and humorous that Rossini does so well. DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra kept pace with Rossini's many mood shifts while instruments became avenues for conversation. An inquisitive piccolo asked questions and an all-wise bassoon answered.
The Overture made way for Cinderella's "Non più mesta," a bel canto showstopper. Florid singing that's seamless and light is the height of this intricate singing style, and mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack made it sound easy. She has a rich, agile voice and a fearless attitude.
The technical fireworks continued with Rossini's "Largo al factotum" from The Barber of Seville, and baritone Hyung Yun was superb. He strutted across the stage singing fast triplets in 6/8 meter and smiling all the while. He even threw in a little patter for good measure.
Wisconsin likes to root for its own, and when Wisconsin native Scott Ramsay sang Donizetti's "Una furtiva lagrima" from The Elixir of Love, we were proud. His approach to this love aria was careful and gentle, but that changed when he and Yun sang Bizet's friendship duet from The Pearl Fishers. Ramsay's tenor was clarion and strong.
Soprano Maria Kanyova pulled on heart strings when she sang the lead in Puccini's Madama Butterfly in the company's 2008 production. Her style in that role was powerfully understated, as it was last night when she sang "Un bel dì" from Butterfly. She's convincing and almost makes us believe that one fine day, Butterfly's American husband will come back to Japan to be with her and their child, even though we know he will not.
John DeMain dedicated choral selections from Daron Hagen's Shining Brow to the late Ann Stanke, Madison Opera's general director from 1984 to 2005 and co-founder of Opera in the Park. She died in May of this year. Her efforts brought about the premiere of Shining Brow in 1993, a bold opera about the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. Mayor Paul Soglin, in his opening remarks, also paid tribute to the grande dame of the Madison Opera. The chorus was wonderful.
The Madison Opera is 50 years old this year and in its prime. Some of yesterday's operas, like Die Fledermaus and La Bohème, were a walk down memory lane. Others looked to the future, exploring the upcoming season and beyond.