Take me out to the … opera? Nats Park hosts free ‘Opera in the Outfield’

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

The Washington Nationals’ season is sadly coming to a close with only two series left on the road in Baltimore and Atlanta, but even if there are no playoffs in the picture, the ballpark is still rocking with a fun musical tradition.

The Washington National Opera presents the 18th annual “Opera in the Outfield” at Nats Park this Saturday.

“It’s just one of our favorite days at the Washington National Opera and the Kennedy Center,” General Director Timothy O’Leary told WTOP. “It’s our opportunity to welcome thousands of people for a free community event where you get to see and hear an opera on the Jumbotron at Nats Park as you sit in the outfield grass or one of the comfortable seats in the stands and have your popcorn, peanuts and Cracker Jacks while you watch the opera.”

Family activities run from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., including costume photo opportunities, balloon twisters, arts and crafts, samplings of M&Ms and an “instrument petting zoo” where guests can see and play orchestral instruments.

Pre-show performances will also happen around the concourse from 5:20 to 6:30 p.m., including a magic show by Musico the Magnificent and a dance performance by Step Afrika! You’ll also see musicians from the WNO Opera Orchestra performing works from “Carmen,” “La traviata” and “Porgy & Bess” arranged for a woodwind quintet.

The main event arrives at 7 p.m. with the Jumbotron screening of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La bohème” with Alevtina Ioffe conducting the WNO Orchestra under the guidance of WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello.

“‘La bohème’ means ‘the Bohemian life,'” O’Leary said. “This is about young, starving artists living in Paris. They’re full of ideals, they fall in love, break up and fall back in love. It’s just a wonderful, romantic, beautiful, kind of funny, moving story. It’s actually the thing that the Broadway show ‘RENT’ was based on. [Jonathan Larson] took music from ‘La bohème’ and sprinkled it throughout ‘RENT,’ so if you ‘RENT’ and love it, then you’ll love ‘La bohème.'”

The 90-minute broadcast was recorded live at the Kennedy Center Opera House back in May, starring Gabriella Reyes as Mimì, Kang Wang as Rodolfo, Jacqueline Echols as Musetta, Gihoon Kim as Marcello, Blake Denson as Schaunard and Peixin Chen as Colline and Peter Rose in the double role of Benoit and Alcindoro. No, it’s not that Pete Rose — this ballpark features a much different “Peter Rose” belting Puccini’s iconic music.

“Puccini just had this gift for melody,” O’Leary said. “He just writes melodies that are so beautiful that you walk out kind of humming them. They have infiltrated your body and mind by the time that you leave. The opera is not realistic, because you’ve got all the singing and the orchestra, and like a musical, you tell the story through music. It’s not realism, but it’s very truthful when it’s great. You get the essence of these people.”

Concessions will be sold on the main concourse level only between sections 108-115. Guests are welcome to bring unopened single-sized servings of food, but no alcohol. They must be carried in a clear, plastic, vinyl or PVC bag with a maximum size of 16 inches by 16 inches by 8 inches.

In the end, the goal is to please opera diehards and win over new converts.

“This is all about welcoming people to experience opera,” O’Leary said. “Opera has this whole reputation of being stuffy and kind of formal, people even think it’s elitist and all that. Opera is just the combination of the words, story, music and the incredible visuals, so we just want people to come and experience it. That’s what happened to me when I was 17 years old. It changed my life. I didn’t think I liked opera, then I actually went to an opera and oh my goodness.”

Hopefully, this event will help turn around the Nats for next season.

“At the curtain call, the opera singers come out wearing their Nats caps for their bows and what not, so we’re helping the Nats end the season by cheering them on,” O’Leary said. “Next season is going to be the best season ever for the Nats and for the Washington National Opera. We both have winning seasons ahead, so it’s the perfect way to get going.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Opera in the Outfield' at Nats Park (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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