‘Opera in the Outfield’ returns to Nats Park with Washington National Opera

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Opera in the Outfield' (Part 1)

Take me out to the opera — and don’t forget the peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

The Washington National Opera presents “Opera in the Outfield” at Nats Park on Saturday.

“This return to a live event … is a huge celebration for us, because it’s beginning our new season at the Kennedy Center back to full-scale live performances,” Kennedy Center General Director Timothy O’Leary told WTOP. “For the past 18 months, we’ve been doing small-scale performances, virtual performances, virtual reality, we had our pop-up opera truck … bringing live opera outdoors.”

Make sure you arrive early so you can reserve a spot on the outfield grass.

“People love it because you get to sit in the grass on the outfield, which is a rare opportunity at Nats Park, watching the opera on the Jumbotron,” O’Leary said. “You’ve got this huge big-screen experience and the incredible sound system at the ballpark. You bring your blanket, get a spot on the outfield. … Then we’ve got the stands throughout the stadium where people can watch.”

Gates open at 5 p.m. for pre-opera activities for the entire family.

“We have all kinds of family-friendly events where you can wander through the ballpark,” O’Leary said. “We’re going to have a live Cinderella doing story time [in costume]. … There’s also a balloon twister, a musical magic show, there’s a lot of fun for the entire family starting at 5:00. … The event is sponsored by Mars, so there’s a lot of chocolate that’s handed out for free.”

You can also watch several short operas on the video board before the main event.

“At 6:30, we’re showing a 30-minute opera by Mo Willems, the famous children’s book author and illustrator,” O’Leary said. “He’s the creator of the Elephant and Piggie characters that my kids love. There’s a book called ‘I Really Like Slop.’ He turned this book into an opera and we call it the ‘Slopera.’ … We [also] show the Bugs Bunny cartoon ‘What’s Opera, Doc?’ before the show.”

The main event begins at 7 p.m. with Rossini’s “Cinderella” screening on the giant video board.

“We try to always pick a family-friendly opera,” O’Leary said. “We had a production of this opera a few years ago at the Kennedy Center starring a really famous opera singer, Isabel Leonard. It did simulcast to ‘Opera in the Outfield’ that year, but that was the year when it rained, so not many people came to the ballpark.”

This year’s Nats Park viewing is the encore performance, which was shot live at the Kennedy Center, O’Leary said.

If you enjoy Leonard’s performance, you can see her again during the Kennedy Center’s 2021-22 season.

“Isabel Leonard is a very famous American mezzo-soprano singing her first ‘Carmen,'” O’Leary said. “‘Carmen’ is probably the most popular opera ever written and we’re closing our spring season this May with ‘Carmen.’ … She’ll appear on the jumbotron to welcome the audience.”

He hopes baseball fans will grow to love the opera as a result of this crossover event.

“This is my very favorite part of the event,” O’Leary said. “Opera has this reputation of being very formal, even elitist … but opera is fun entertainment and beautiful. The opportunity to sit there with your peanuts, popcorn and Cracker Jacks in the ballpark, the juxtaposition is quite fun. … It was always populist entertainment before it got these high-falutin stereotypes.”

He said the outdoor ballpark setting is perfect for our new pandemic reality.

“I think we’ll see plenty of people in masks and plenty of people wanting to distance,” O’Leary said. “The beautiful thing about the setting outside is that there’s plenty of space at the ballpark. People can do it according to their comfort level. That’s the name of the game: Outdoors when possible.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Opera in the Outfield' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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