Opera in the park is one of those quintessential experiences of a New York City Summer. Native New Yorkers and visitors alike gather in Central Park each year to see world-class productions of some of the very best operatic works, performed entirely free. It’s an opportunity like no other.
The productions of the New York Grand Opera are unique in the world. The company, founded in 1973 by Maestro Vincent La Selva, is the only such organization devoted entirely to staging the best of opera at no cost to the public. Now in its 38th year of production seasons (they claim it’s their 39th year of productions, but I can’t figure out their math on that), the company has become a fixture of the New York arts community.
This year, on an unusually cool and breezy Summer evening, the 2012 season kicked off with a performance of Tosca. And it afforded me my first opportunity to be part of this annual tradition.
One of the first things you realize as you enter the courtyard of the Naumburg Band Shell is that despite name of the opera company, the operas staged here are more intimate than grand. The small venue is an ornate stone shell that is worked with details inside and out. The seating is also limited. Unless you are a contributing patron of the company, don’t expect to get a chair. Instead bring a blanket or, preferably lawn chairs — the paving stones definitely do not make a comfortable seat for a three hour performance. I also recommend you get there early. While it wasn’t crowded, the best viewing does go quickly and the audience is on a flat surface.
The other big thing you recognize immediately is that “free” doesn’t mean second-rate. This is New York City, after all. Even the B-talent is of A-talent caliber. From the opening strains of the orchestra to the first notes sung by the principals, the performance was on-par with the best that the city has to offer. Even if you don’t normally enjoy opera, laying out in the open air, feeling such incredible performances wash over is not to be missed.
The seasons are short by necessity of money and timing, so only one more performance is scheduled for this year. Madama Butterfly will be presented on July 18th. So if you live in New York and have never gone, or you plan a trip to the city, make time for this fabulous and unique experience.
Visit the New York Grand Opera Website at www.NewYorkGrandOpera.org.