The waters of Bradley Fair will be transformed into the backdrop of a grandiose outdoor stage Saturday evening as the Wichita Grand Opera presents its final performance of the season.
This year’s Opera on the Lake will see a fully staged production of Donizetti’s comedic “Don Pasquale.” The company started the tradition of outdoor opera 10 years ago. It’s a phenomenon that organizers say has brought in new appreciators of the art and offers a unique, festive way to experience entertainment under the stars.
“You can shop first, then you can see the performance, then dance,” Parvan Bakardiev, Wichita Grand Opera president and show producer. “You can see the lake, the star-lit sky, and enjoy the beautiful the moon. It’s truly spectacular.”
This will be the second time “Don Pasquale” has been performed in Wichita as part of this season’s operas, but Bakardiev said witnessing the show outside is an entirely new experience. Because it’s performed in English and does not require supertitles projected above the stage, it is a natural fit for a production that will draw an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 people sprawled out along the lake’s terrace and across the waters.
“It’s in English, it’s funny, and Don Pasquale got much attraction once people got to know about it,” Bakardiev said. “I would estimate that a good 70 percent of the audience there has never seen opera. We have a built-in audience from the jazz series, which is a totally different audience. We infiltrate that audience and turn them on to opera. Once they get the taste, they get hooked on it.”
The storyline of the show follows a humorous, though haphazard, attempt by the aging restaurateur Don Pasquale to teach his nephew, Ernesto, a lesson about love and responsibility. Like the performance earlier this year, the story has been re-staged to take place in Wichita, but this particular staging will draw in the attributes of Bradley Fair.
Since Don Pasquale is set at a popular Italian restaurant, Newport Grill’s front row seating to the event makes it a natural fit. Elements of the restaurant will be incorporated into the script, and some of the wait staff will be extras during dining scenes. The set will be on land, with the lake serving as a backdrop.
The same cast that performed earlier this year will reprise their roles. Metropolitan Opera bass-baritone William Powers returns in the title part, back to Wichita after making his Paris debut in Verdi’s “Nabucco.” Sharin Apostolou is once again in the role of the saucy Norina, following her performances in Handel’s “Rinaldo” at Portland Opera. Michael Nansel is back as Dr. Malatesta, and Dustin Peterson reprises Ernesto. Maestro Ken Hakoda will be the conductor.
All of the actors and the orchestra will be hooked up to microphones, and all seating areas will have amplifiers to allow for maximum sound.
In addition to the opera, there will be music by the Wichita Swing Dance Society during the intermission and immediately following the performance. Those attending are invited to dance along.
Attendees are advised to bring a lawn chair or blanket and arrive as early as 10 a.m. Saturday to stake out a spot. General admission seating is free, but spaces fill up fast. Free seating is available by the fountain, on the north side of the balcony, across the lake, and on the lawn by the Hilton Garden Inn. A limited number of reserved seats are available for $50. Everyone is invited to bring a picnic basket and enjoy food and drinks during the production.
Newport Grill is offering a VIP seating area, complete with a three-course dinner, on its patio for $150 a person or $750 for a table of six.
“This is a present to the community,” Bakardiev said. “It’s extremely appealing music. ... It’s a relatable story. It’s love, intrigue, fun and comedy. If you like theater, music theater, ballet or opera, it has all of those elements. It’s a broad-based appeal. It’s opera for everyone, outside.”
The opera also will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the McPherson Opera House in McPherson. Tickets for that show are $24, $28 and $32, plus a $3 opera house preservation fee per ticket. To purchase, call 620-241-1952 or visit mcphersonoperahouse.org.