With the rain holding off virtually to program's end, this year's Opera in the Park benefited from beautifully mild weather, drawing another audience of enthusiastic thousands gathered at Garner Park.
The menu for Saturday evening was a generously long and particularly substantial one. A sensible theme was the sampling of two of the three works scheduled for Madison Opera's 2009-10 season. Thus, we had three numbers from Carmen, including the ever-rousing Toreador scene. From The Flying Dutchman -- to be MO's first Wagner production ever, next April -- we were given three powerful excerpts. The blazing Overture, of course, and Senta's Act II Ballad, but also the choral segment that opens Act III. Sadly, the excerpt chopped off the true ending, when the chorus of ghosts overwhelms and disperses the choirs of Norwegian girls and sailors, one of the most magnificent choral episodes in all opera.
Otherwise, there were fine highlights from six other operas. After a Rossini Overture, we had the famous "Una voce poco fa" aria. Next, two excerpts from Mozart's Don Giovanni, then bits from Puccini's Tosca, and from Ada and Don Carlo of Verdi, rounded out by the wonderful Easter scene from Mascagni's "Cavalleria rusticana".
The second half of the program made the usual detour into operetta and Broadway shows. A cheap Mario Lanza movie song was a throwaway, but a generous chunk of Lehár's Merry Widow was most welcome. Two items from Kiss Me, Kate, especially "So In Love", showed how the true quality of Cole Porter's vocal writing can blossom when sung by operatic voices. That great Porter is a hard act to follow was shown by trivialities from Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. But memorable melody triumphed in the full-company rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel.
The four guest singers were all excellent vocalists, but the inevitable distortions of requisitely heavy amplification tended to turn soprano Lisa Daltirus, tenor Adam Diegel (next season's Don José in Carmen), and baritone Timothy Kuhn into stolid blasters. The exception was mezzo-soprano Jennifer Holloway. A beautiful young woman with an astoundingly strong and even voice, she alone had the capacity to suggest real characters in her solos. Already winning acclaim at home and abroad, she is truly an important singer. For introducing her to Madison, we really owe Opera in the Park a debt of gratitude.
It remains to say that the Madison Symphony played bravely under John DeMain, while the Madison Opera Chorus, usefully employed throughout, did itself really proud in the Wagner segment.