Especially when your home team is the Washington National Opera…
“There definitely needs to be more opera events with beer and nachos.” – Hillary L.
Washington, D.C. – Washington National Opera is no stranger to community opera events, but perhaps their most well-known is Opera in the Outfield. Opera in the Outfield is a free, live broadcast of a Washington National Opera production. Thursday night was their fourth annual simulcast and featured WNO’s stunning production of Tosca. In 2008, the simulcasts were moved to the newly opened Nationals Park, “forging a relationship between the Capital’s hometown ball club and its hometown opera company.” Nationals Park is the nation’s first major professional stadium to become LEED Silver Certified by the U.S. Green Building Council and is a perfect setting for catching a performance on their 4,811-square-foot high-definition video screen.
The weather was perfect as a friend and I selected a perfectly manicured spot in right center field to spread out a blanket, kick off our shoes, and start sipping our premium $8.00 beers (it’s still ballpark prices, folks.) Excitement filled the air as the audience settled into place for the opening strains of the Tosca overture, conducted handsomely by Plácido Domingo. Down on the field, the sound was just right but I did read some grumbling tweets (#simulcast) about the noise level around the concession stands on the main level. After Cavaradossi, ably sung by Frank Porretta, sang his moving 1st act aria, Recondita armonia, there were some unmistakable italianate “bravos” rising from the growing stadium crowd. There was moderate applause throughout the production after arias and at the end of acts. However, when Tosca (Patricia Racette) plunged the knife into Scarpia (Alan Held) and growled in his ear, “This is Tosca’s kiss that you have so passionately longed for” the audience erupted in spontaneous cheers and applause.
A young tenor from the D.C. area, Ted Kerrick, was thrilled to attend Opera in the Outfield for the first time. The opportunity to see the singers up-close was thrilling. He enthused, “He’s (Porretta as Cavaradossi) doing everything we talk about in voice lessons; singing totally on the breath and not restricting.” Opera in the Outfield is certainly a wonderful resource for young singers to see the professionals and examine their technique at close range.
It makes sense that people are drawn to this experience because it mixes the casualness of the movie theatre, the communal feeling of a baseball game, and quality high culture all for the low, low ticket price of…free. The real question here: is Opera in the Outfield a gateway to more attendees becoming patrons? Maybe – maybe not. Washington National Opera showed-off their high quality marketing materials all evening. Nevertheless, I wondered if they had considered marketing more specifically to their guests in the outfield – families and students. Walking around and talking to audience members gave me the impression that these are the people that are already “in” to opera. They simply don’t have the same purchasing power or time away from the kids to attend productions at the Kennedy Center.
Opera in the Outfield is just one part of the many “access initiatives” like year-round programs in public schools, discount tickets, and adult enrichment provided by the Washington National Opera. This multi-generational, multi-faceted approach means that WNO isn’t putting all of their outreach strategies into one basket. The company is truly cultivating an audience for now and later. Opera in the Outfield requires sophisticated technology and months of preparation; all for a free event. These initiatives truly demonstrate that WNO is comfortable with investing in future audiences ten, twenty, thirty years from now.
If you weren’t able to catch this year’s Opera in the Outfield, don’t despair. I wholeheartedly suggest you procure some tickets for one of their indoor productions at the Kennedy Center. Or, you can stay up-to-date about next year’s event by visiting OperaintheOutfield.org. I plan on being there again with more friends and comfier accoutrements. Hope to see you there!
David and Alice Rubenstein are the Presenting Underwriters of Washington National Opera. Generous support for WNO Italian opera is provided by Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello. Opera in the Outfield is sponsored by M&M’s®. Opera in the Outfield is presented in partnership with the Washington Nationals.
Photos by Scott Tuchman