One of the selling points of Opera Under the Stars is how un-opera it is; at least in the ways that make opera seem imposing and inaccessible to the masses.
"You're not downtown trying to find parking with reserved seating and a show in a language you don't understand," says Zackery Morris, one of the five singers participating in the inaugural outdoor opera event Saturday night at the MoonDance at Midnight Pass amphitheater.
The performance will be a relatively quick, inexpensive night listening to some of the most familiar tunes on Earth, al fresco (trans. "in the open air," and yes, there will be translations for the songs that are in foreign languages).
The idea of adding opera to Lexington's menu of summer outdoor arts offerings — Ballet Under the Stars, SummerFest, Woodland Art Fair, to name a few — has been floating around for a while, event coordinator Patrick Joel Martin says.
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"UK Opera Theatre was approached," Martin says. "But with all that (UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey) does, it was not a good time for UK to put it together."
When Martin, who has worked with UK Opera Theatre, came onto the staff of the cultural arts division of the Lexington Parks and Recreation Department, the door opened for him to put together the opera event.
He hired five singers for the event, some of whom are still in the UK Opera program or just graduated.
"A lot of these singers will be familiar to fans of UK Opera," Martin says.
They include soprano and doctoral candidate Shareese Arnold, who will open the evening with Summertime from Porgy & Bess; Lexington native Gabrielle Barker, whose UK Opera roles have included Cosette in Les Miserables; Sarah Klopfenstein, who earned her master's and doctorate from UK; current student Jonathan Parham, who shared the title role of UK Opera's Tales of Hoffman with superstar UK alum Gregory Turay; and Morris, a mainstay of recent UK productions who just received his master's degree and starts work on a doctorate this fall.
Morris has had experience performing outdoors with the Shakespeare in the Park in Raleigh, near his hometown of Fuquay-Varina, N.C., he says. But singing outdoors is a bit different, though he has sung at the Moondance amphitheater a few times now to promote Opera Under the Stars and he likes the feel.
"It does a nice job of throwing our voices out there, but amplification is important so we're not pushing our voices too hard," Morris says.
One of the main differences between a theater and an outdoor venue like the amphitheater is that there are no theater walls or ceilings to contain the sound, so at a certain point, singers need a little electronic help to be heard.
"The main thing is to stay hydrated," Morris says of singing outdoors in the summertime.
In planning the event, the parks department did consider Woodland Park, where Ballet Under the Stars just wrapped up last weekend, but they settled on Moondance because, "We wanted to bring opera to areas outside of downtown where you don't get to hear it live," Martin says.