Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Runnicles in the Park

One thing that I unfortunately didn't have room to include in today's exit interview with Donald Runnicles was his stated fondness for the company's Opera in the Park concert. For those not familiar with this institution, it's a free annual event that takes place outdoors in Golden Gate Park, on the Sunday afternoon following the opera or operas of the opening weekend. Basically, whichever singers are in town for the first two or three productions of the season offer a mixed lineup of arias, duets and ensembles, massively amplified, while people picnic on the grass and the sun beats down and the breezes threaten to blow the music off of the players' stands.

I probably shouldn't say this, since my employer is the event's main sponsor, but Opera in the Park has never done much for me. I appreciate it in theory — sunshine, fresh air, picnic baskets, music — but for anyone with a strong connection to the art form, it's so completely not the way you want to hear opera. And I would have bet any amount of money that the artists, more than anyone, would regard this as just one of those onerous obligations that come with the job.

So imagine my surprise when Runnicles said this:

A highlight for me, year in and year out, was the park concert. In the first years, I took so much trouble with the lineup, planning what to put in and how. And then over the years — I won't say we winged it but it took less and less work. I loved that concert. What a unique event! If there are 50 people hearing their first Winterstürme or Turandot, you may have sown a seed.

I don't know when I've felt so small or cynical.


At 5/28/2009 4:17 PM, Blogger pjwv said...

I think you're being way too harsh on yourself.

Runnicles has a terrific and even inspiring view of the event, but clearly it's because he changed his thinking about it and made it more about casual fun with a musical backdrop rather than trying to put on a concert for intent listeners.

And he's up there on the platform making music, not down in the crowd immersed in the chatting and chomping and whatnot while trying to listen. For him, it's probably a fun change from the usual. For someone who is -- I don't want to say "a serious listener" but I think I have to -- it's very much, as you say, not the way you want to listen to music.

I don't think it's small or cynical to take that point of view. And as you've probably inferred, it's not something I would attend either, because it's more about the event than the music, and I just don't enjoy those things (I feel the same way about Opera at the Ballpark). Sure, it's great that they have it and people enjoy it, but I have no qualms in saying I personally can do without it, or in saying that I don't really think of it as a "musical" event.

At 5/28/2009 6:31 PM, Anonymous bratschegirl said...

i dunno, josh, small & cynical might be a bit harsh. medium and slightly jaded, perhaps...

it's lovely that he says that about oitp--whether he actually means it is another thing, of course--but i guarantee you that everyone else on that stage is gritting their teeth and hoping just to survive to the end of the gig.

i'll have to leave it to the marketing department to evaluate whether any of those vaunted seeds actually take root and turn into butts in seats (wow--where's the new yorker's "block that metaphor" team when you need them?).

At 6/02/2009 8:26 AM, Blogger opera said...

The sun shining? Not sure which ones you went to, but of all the ones I've attended, the sun was only shining once -- for a few minutes. The rest of time was spent huddling under a blanket or taking my sweatshirt on and off with the changing weather. I like the programming - though - it's usually nice chance to hear the younger artists like Elza vanden Heever or Heidi Melton alongside the older, more established stars.

At 6/11/2009 12:16 PM, Blogger rchrd said...

I hate the acoustics. Sounds like a baseball game. But I've always found it amazing that people actually do come.


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