Since 2003, Opera on the Lake has become a big event on Wichita's arts calendar.
Wichita Grand Opera presents the free, outdoor performance at Bradley Fair each year to close out its season. About 3,000 people attended last year, taking lawn chairs to the shopping center's fountain plaza and setting out blankets on the shores of its lake.
But don't think Opera on the Lake is only about opera singing. Sure, the performance will feature highlights from WGO's recently concluded season. But Margaret Pent, the company's artistic director and co-founder, organized the concert to also include favorite encore arias, chorus singing, a tribute to the musical "South Pacific" and dancing to big band music played by the Boeing Jazz Band.
"We're doing 'South Pacific' for the fun of it because we have our own island there at Bradley Fair," said Parvan Bakardiev, general director of Wichita Grand Opera. "We'll do some of the famous tunes so people get the picture that opera singers do popular music, too."
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Performers are all from Wichita and Kansas.
Mark Laycock from Wichita State University will conduct a 28-piece WGO Orchestra in selections from past seasons' operas.
And to highlight WGO's commitment to classic ballet, the company's ballet troupe will reprise its dance from the wedding scene in "The Elixir of Love."
Choreography by Diane Gans will feature 10 to 12 young ballerinas who train at her Kansas Dance Academy. Gans said the WGO should be commended for including ballet in many of its operas — numbers often excluded from productions even in major opera houses.
"They are great about going the extra mile and letting these dancers from the local area have the opportunity of performing at Century II and on a big stage," she said.
Here's what else the audience can expect at Opera on the Lake on Saturday:
Encore arias — The most emotional musical moments from past seasons will be presented, including the heartbreaking "Una furtive lagrima" from Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love" and the sultry "Habanera" from Bizet's "Carmen." Also featured will be songs from "Faust," "Romeo and Juliet," "The Pearl Fishers" and "The Tales of Hoffman."
Homegrown talent — Featured singers include young stars from past WGO productions, including soprano Mary Ellen Swords, mezzo Jennifer Weiman, tenors Paul Smith and Patrick Greene, and baritone Michael Nansel.
A Wichita debut — Soprano Lindsay Ohse, 26, will make her Wichita debut at Opera on the Lake, singing the popular arias "Je veux vivre" from "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Doll Song" from "The Tales of Hoffmann."
"I'm very excited about it because it's the opportunity to work with the company in a laid-back environment singing fun stuff, and hopefully I'll be working more with them next season," Ohse said. The Topeka native and University of Kansas alumna was a hit as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's "The Magic Flute" with Sarasota Opera in Florida, and this summer will join the acclaimed apprentice program at Santa Fe Opera.
The Three (Kansas) Tenors — Taking a cue from the record-breaking trio of Pavarotti-Domingo-Carreras, three tenors will reprise the famous "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's "Turandot." Not to be outdone, three sopranos will combine for "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's "The Barber of Seville."
"Some Enchanted Evening" — Soloists and orchestra will perform a parade of hit songs from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical "South Pacific."
Swing, swing, swing — The soloists will also sing favorite popular songs backed by the Boeing Jazz Band, classics such as "Over the Rainbow," "All of Me," "Night and Day" and others. The audience is encouraged to dance alongside couples from the Wichita Swing Dance Society.
Food, drink, music — Bring blankets and lawn chairs to hear the concert, with Bradley Fair's lake and island as a backdrop. A special dinner will be available, prepared by Yia Yia's Eurobistro, with reserved seating overlooking the stage. Cost for the three-course meal is $150; reservations are required by Wednesday. Call 316-262-8054.
"It combines leisure with pleasure and music," Bakardiev said about Opera on the Lake. "It's a celebration of the season and the beginning of summer.
"But also it is to introduce people who never come down to Century II — not just for the opera, but they don't come down to see the symphony or opera or music theater. This is an education for them."
If you go
Opera on the Lake
What: Outdoor concert featuring opera arias, swing dance music and a medley from "South Pacific"
Where: Fountain plaza at Bradley Fair shopping center, Rock Road at 21st Street
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
How much: Admission is free. Bring blankets and lawn chairs.
Free parking at Bradley Fair. For more information, visit www.wichitagrandopera.org or call 316-262-8054.