Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Diversity, education take center stage as Harrisburg Opera Association mounts virtual program

When most of us think of opera, we might think of the more popular classics: Pavarotti, “La Bohème,” maybe “Phantom of the Opera.” But Harrisburg Opera Association isn’t blowing the dust off any crinkly parchments from traditional classical opera for its 2020 season.

Under the new shifting paradigm of virtual video trending in the arts community for 2020, HOA will present the main-stage program “Outside While Inside – Opera in the Park,” with a special emphasis on diversity.

Executive Director and Artistic Director Tami Swartz purposefully cast the performance “to bring attention to our communities of color […] showcasing culturally and historically relevant topics, places, and experiences of minority artists.”

The cast extends from central Pennsylvania to New York City and Philadelphia – singers, actors, musicians and dancers with professional regional and international credits. (One name you might recognize is Megan Caruso, creative director of TheBurg, as well as co-founder of Sprocket Mural Works.)

Caruso said that some of Sprocket’s murals will be shown in the film, serving as part of the intentionality to highlight local sites of artistic relevance, historical significance and natural settings in Harrisburg.

“Viewers will notice the original cinematography as a visual complement to the auditory experience,” Swartz said.

The video will feature five different segments spanning across the musical genres of baroque classical, African American spiritual, mainstream jazz, classical/pop crossover and Latin jazz. In keeping with fore-fronting diversity, look for light genre-bending when you hear opera tenor (of NYC’s The Met fame) Raúl Melo and bass Jorge Ocasio crooning a jazz number. Many of the numbers will include original arrangements: “familiar and not-so-familiar pieces,” Swartz said.

The African-American experience is brought alive through sing-along songs, a film featuring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Harrisburg, an original jazz tune and a brief history of jazz in central Pennsylvania. You may recognize the names of Jimmy Wood and Ronnie Waters of the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz associated with this piece.

Opera has its earliest roots in Renaissance Italy, and HOA does give a slight nod to early Italian opera from the Baroque era, with its original arrangements incorporated. I would argue that the Italian way is the best way to present opera, but, given my own background, I am excruciatingly biased.

Before each movement, narrators will provide educational and culturally relevant lessons. These segments will serve as more than just PSAs about the importance of diversity. HOA teamed up with Harrisburg Academy and Messiah University to offer course credits.

The video is geared toward becoming a curricula for kindergarten through high school students. It covers music, art, history and social studies. High school students have a unique educational opportunity to earn credits by participating in this video presentation. (Parents who are stuck homeschooling this year, I’m talking to you. You’re possibly already short on energy and resources, but don’t cut your music program from your home school.)

Michael Gamon serves as both the fine and performing arts chair at Harrisburg Academy and the arts and education officer at HOA. A main component of his mission is to make the lessons relevant and educational for the curricula of local students.

“When we think of opera, it seems so distant — far off locations, times, stories, musical style — but this production really brings the music home,” he said. “Every selection is connected to locations, artists, and stories that are a part of Harrisburg.”

The logo for HOA’s season is worth its own paragraph. Colorburst illustrates a montage of performers in costumes from athletic wear to formalwear to a sun-child hippie dress. The symbolism nods to HOA‘s aim of bringing us a virtual Colorburst of world music with sensory influences that extend beyond solely music.

Sponsors for the program include The David Katz Trust, Fischer Financial Services, Inc., and Arts for All Partnership – a partnership between the Cultural Enrichment Fund and the Greater Harrisburg Community Foundation, a regional foundation of the Foundation for Enhancing Communities.

Harrisburg Opera Association’s video can be found on their YouTube page. The performance will be available on Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m. The suggested tax-deductible donation is $10.

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