Opera Naples creates new, compact season under the stars at Baker Park
Opera Naples will turn itself into a tropical Tanglewood, moving from a season stretched over seven months to a four-day musical intensive with a Festival under the Stars at Baker Park.
Cities across Europe and companies from Santa Fe to Cincinnati in the U.S. have refined the concept of opera as a festival. They compress multiple productions into a week, especially popular with music tourists. Places like Bayreuth in Germany, with its Wagner festival, and Salzburg in Austria, have cultivated their festivals into sold-out tourist attractions that now extend the entire summer.
Few fortunate companies can take their music festival outdoors as Tanglewood does in Massachusetts and Ravinia does in Chicago. With the opening of Baker Park, however, Naples could be one of them.
Baker Park opens up opportunities for all arts
"It was already in my future plans," declared Opera Naples Artistic Director Ramón Tebar said, speaking from Vienna, where he is rehearsing for a five-performance program of the Mahler Symphony No. 4. (See box for information on that performance.)
"Besides performances in Artis—Naples I thought of adding another outdoor concert every year so we could, in effect, reach a festival format. We didn't think the pandemic would push us that fast," he conceded. But it did. "So here we are!"
Because of the coronavirus restrictions, Artis—Naples, where Opera Naples stages large-scale productions like "Aida" and "La Boheme," has had to reduce the number of people in Hayes Hall. It has been limiting performances to small ensembles. Operas at Opera Naples' own Wang Center, where the company staged contemporary works like "Scalia and Ginsberg," would be iffy. It is under renovation, adding a larger lobby and more sophisticated sound booth.
However, the $23 million, 15-acre Baker Park, which opened in 2019, offered a nearly perfect location, lacking only an acoustical shell to propel sound toward the audience. Opera Naples is collaborating in the erection of a temporary one with The Naples Players, who are staging "Footloose" there Feb. 24-March 7.
More outdoors:Naples Players forge a fresh-air season
"After they close, we come in for two days of rehearsal and then we have four days of the festival, with a fifth day for a rain date," Tebar explained.
"In countries like the U.S. 90 percent of companies are canceling, so I think that in Naples we're very fortunate," he said. "We have beautiful, stunning weather and great sunsets. There are very few places in the United States in winter like this — we have this amazing weather."
March also is one of the city's driest months, according to weather-us.com. It averages 2.3 inches of rain. Average high temperature is 80.4 degrees Fahrenheit and the average low is 58.3 degrees Fahrenheit. But Tebar wants to be prepared: "We'll keep our fingers crossed."
Keep the music varied, ambience versatile
The festival opens with one of his favorite tenors, Joseph Calleja, backed, as all productions will be, by the Opera Naples orchestra. Calleja's public performance here is a particular coup for Tebar: "He only sings two other places when he comes to the U.S. — the Metropolitan Opera and the Chicago Lyric Opera."
Then, discarding the darker "Don Giovanni" it had planned for its Artis—Naples production last spring, Opera Naples offers two performances of a lush Verdi favorite, "La Traviata," with a single night concert performance of "West Side Story" in between.
The "West Side Story" performance came from a years-ago YouTube viewing of Leonard Bernstein conducting his own musical for the first time. The performance hooked Tebar, who said he has wanted to conduct a version of it since: "This music is so beautiful."
The opera is putting together daytime events for music lovers. The extras will offer a rich experience for visitors. But, responding via email to questions, Opera Naples emphasized this is "primarily a festival for Naples, which already consists of a wide range of patrons from other markets."
Tebar knows his way around festivals; he was the director of the Santo Domingo Music Festival during its formative years and has conducted in a number of others.
"It's a lot of work," he conceded, "but the advantage is to bring the new audience in, while at the same time keeping traditional audiences happy. With this format in Baker Park, we can achieve all these experience in one."
That includes levels of seating from economy-price seating on the lawn, to VIP seating at a table with a light meal provided and a chance to quaff a Champagne.
It's an entertainment opportunity for everyone, emphasized Sondra Quinn, executive director of Opera Naples, in a news release statement: "Whatever your preconceived notions are of opera, we’re expanding beyond those lines to create something that appeals to a diverse group — whether you’re a seasoned opera patron or interested in discovering a new cultural arts experience outdoors.”
Tickets became available last week. (See the information box with this story.)
There is one casualty of the season: its plans to produce "Glory Denied," the contemporary opera based on the experiences of Col. Jim Thompson, America's longest-held prisoner of war. It was planned for the Wang Opera Center.
21st-century opera:Naples strikes gold with 'Scalia/Ginsburg'
Tebar is hoping it can return, perhaps next season, but because it needs the intimacy of a chamber opera, the park isn't its best venue.
And Tebar was determined to find a venue.
"For me canceling must be the last option," he declared. "I really believe it. We must find ways to go around this pandemic. This could be exaggerated, but for me, art and music are food for the soul."
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.
Festival Under the Stars
What: Opera Naples four-day opera and music festival with three different performances, from concert to musical to opera.March 10, Joseph Calleja in concert; March 11, "La Traviata"; March 12, "West Side Story," concert version; March 13, "La Traviata"
Where: Baker Park, 50 Riverside Circle, Naples
When: Performances 7 p.m. March 10-13; seating areas open earlier
Admission: VIP ticketing, $125, including preferred seating at reserved tables, with light alfresco meal; $85, preferred individual seating in “Premium” section; $65, seating in priority “Classic” section; $45, seating in “Standard” section; $25, reserved seating in “General” area. Three-day pass, 15 percent discount; two-day pass, 10 percent discount. Group discounts.
To buy:operanaples.org or 239-963-9050
Something else: Social distancing and COVID-19 safety measures will be required
Mahler Symphony No. 4
What: Major masterwork of Gustav Mahler, this time with a dance setting, Vienna State Ballet and Vienna Philharmonic performing, Ramón Tebar, artistic director of Opera Naples, conducting
When: Performances are 7:30 p.m. Austrian time, 1:30 p.m. U.S. time, Dec. 23- Jan. 2
Admission: Currently TBA if streaming is allowed; check wiener-staatsoper.at/en/