Stars to diamonds: Opera Naples fest moves to Cambier Park softball field

Harriet Howard Heithaus
Naples Daily News

You might call Opera Naples' decision to create a stage from a ball diamond a gem of a plan. The opera simply calls it a bigger theater.

The opera opens its second Festival Under the Stars next Friday, March 11, at the softball diamond in Cambier Park, where two star tenors alternate with an opera thriller and a Leonard Bernstein romp through New York with three sailors.

And don't forget the boomwhackers. 

Those are for the kid-friendly Family and Community Day, Sunday, March 13, rather than the evening audiences. That's not to say the concept of producing Bernstein's "On the Town" with a boomwhacker orchestra doesn't have a certain appeal to it. But the Naples Festival Orchestra with Opera Naples Artistic Director Ramón Tebar will be the music source for that as well.

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"Glory Denied," in a Tri-City Opera production done recently. It is becoming one of the most produced new operas in the U.S.

Tebar, who has been championing the idea of a winter opera festival even before COVID-19 mandated it, will be the pianist for two of the three tenor concerts. 

This festival is a major expansion of the 2021 festival, which sold out its performances and prompted Opera Naples to seek more seating. Baker Park, however, was looking for events with less seating, so officials scouted out other venues in and around Naples. It found the generally quiet ballfield, with room to seat 800, plus an orchestra and stage, at the city of Naples' Cambier Park. 

The amenities are unparalleled, as Executive Director Sondra Quinn pointed out. Within three blocks are two parking garages, and pre-event dining spots are within walking distance. (Those interested in dining would do well to make reservations.) 

Joseph Calleja

The events themselves are the draw, however. The schedule includes:

At Cambier Park

  • 7 p.m. Friday, March 11 — Joseph Calleja. Tenor Calleja, a favorite of opera houses around Europe and the U.S., so charmed the house at the premiere Festival Under the Stars that the opera invited him back for its gala this year as well as for its first festival concert. With Opera Naples Artistic Director Ramón Tebar — the two are personal friends as well — at the piano, it promises a strong opening. Tickets: $28-$93 
  • 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday, March 13 — Family and Community Day. This free roundup of festival events, from a bounce house to face painting, includes an introduction to the fun of opera with opportunities for kids K-fifth grade to try out costumes, create favorite tunes on boomwhackers, actually make and take their own musical instruments and watch Opera Naples teens swashbuckle through vignettes of  "Pirates of Penzance." It's all free. Early arriving parents can partake of supplied coffee and Danish as well. 
  • 7 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday, March 13 and 15 — "Tosca": Ramon Vargas, a familiar Metropolitan Opera lead, plays the rebel artist Cavaradossi opposite Ann Toomey, as the impassioned heroine in one of Puccini's most performed operas. For those who have never seen an opera, it is considered the absolute best introduction. With the Naples Festival Orchestra, Tebar conducting. $28-$93 
  • 7 p.m. Monday, March 14  — "On the Town": Breezy Bernstein musical, semi-staged here with costuming and choreography, which follows a trio of sailors on 24-hour leave, looking for love in the Big Apple. But after that day, they must ship out to fight in World War II. With the Naples Festival Orchestra, Tebar conducting. $28-$93
  • 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 16 — Javier Camarena: Camarena, who has been cheered to encores in three different  productions at the Met, is a tenor superstar who plays Puccini, Donizetti and Rossini with equal ease. With the Naples Festival Orchestra, Tebar conducting. 28-$93

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Ramon Vargas

Part of Tebar's dream to offer opera around the entire city has brought two of this year's events to the opera's Wang Center, 2408 Linwood Ave., as well:  

At Wang Opera Center

  • 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 18, and 2 pm. Sunday, March 20 — "Glory Denied": The contemporary opera by Tom Cipullo, based on the Thomas Philpott book of the same name. It retells the story of the longest held American prisoner in the Vietnam War, Capt. Floyd James Thompson, his homecoming and his struggle to adjust to an America that had spun through nine full years in the meantime. With the Naples Festival Orchestra, Tebar conducting. $39-$102
  • 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19 — Ramon Vargas: The Mexico City-born tenor is not only in demand in opera houses but as a concert singer, with an extensive repertoire ranging from Italian classical songs, romantic German Lieder, and melodies by French, Mexican, and Spanish composers. With Tebar on piano. Cabaret style seating with tables for from two ($200) to 10 ($1,000) some general admission ($60)

For reservations, see or call 239-963-9050.

Opera Naples in 2021 hosted an outdoor festival at Baker Park.

About those boomwhackers: If you're not familiar with them, the boomwhacker is a hollow tube tuned to a pitch that's denoted by its color. Groups slap one or two of them against a hard surface — the floor, or even their bodies — to produce their particular sounds.

"If you know your colors and you can follow along, you can make music," declared Robin Shuford Frank, Opera Naples director of education and community outreach. 

Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/ Reach her at 239-213-6091.