The notes of tenors, baritones and mezzo-sopranos once rang out each summer through the trees and fields of one of Harrisburg’s beautiful parks.
Long-time residents may remember the Harrisburg Opera Association’s free outdoor concerts in Reservoir and Riverfront parks, now some 20 years past.
This month, the tradition returns as a revived HOA ventures uptown to Italian Lake Park for “Looking Forward,” a concert featuring a wide range of musical genres, including classic and contemporary opera, musical theater, cabaret and folk.
Italian Lake’s idyllic setting offers natural beauty to complement the 70-minute performance, an open-air venue that contrasts sharply with the typical ornate opera house, said HOA President and Treasurer Lee Swartz. In that spirit, performers are inviting their audience to clothe themselves in luau and picnic attire instead of tuxedoes and ball gowns, and to bring lawn chairs and blankets.
The return of outdoor opera marks the return of HOA itself, which has been on hiatus since 2010. Through the event, HOA will restore opera to Harrisburg with “well known, professional artists, including those who have sung at the highest levels of the art, including the Metropolitan Opera and European venues,” Swartz said.
Spearheading the revival is Tami Swartz, HOA’s recently appointed executive director and artistic director. It was, she said, the right time to bring regional, professional opera back to Harrisburg.
“While this city has many professional arts venues, we have not had a professional opera company in the higher regional category for the last eight years,” she said.
A Harrisburg native and Juilliard graduate, Tami Swartz has performed internationally, regionally and off-Broadway. Devoted, long-time opera fans in Harrisburg may remember her from roles such as Cho-Cho-san in “Madama Butterfly,” Gilda in “Rigoletto” (HOA) and Tuptim in “The King and I” (Allenberry Playhouse).
Swartz’s professional collaborators for this performance are Michael Gamon, Adam Klein, Hannah Shea, Greg Strohman and Timothy Lafontaine.
In addition to directing and producing, Klein has performed in notable opera houses all over the United States and parts of Canada since 1971. Baritone Lafontaine also has an impressive CV, performing throughout the country and internationally.
A resident of Susquehanna Township and 2014 graduate of the Harrisburg Academy International Baccalaureate Program, mezzo-soprano Shea has sung with the Harrisburg Singers and the Susquehanna Young Women’s Chorale.
“Having grown up as a young person interested in classical music, I would have loved to have seen concerts like this available and supported in the community,” Shea said. “It’s so exciting to see opera coming back to Harrisburg’s music scene. I can’t wait to share some beautiful music with my hometown.”
For this performance, Gamon, director of the Center for the Creative Arts at Harrisburg Academy, will talk about each selection before it is performed. While opera is known for Italian, French and German works, many of the “Looking Forward” selections will be in English.
“This event means I can give beautiful art back to the people and spread some much needed light to my fellow Harrisburgers,” Tami Swartz said. “I have always wanted to make this an opera company for all the people who live here.”
Strohman stressed that regional operas like HOA serve an immensely important role for developing artists and rising stars.
“We’re looking forward to many excellent productions from the Harrisburg Opera Association over the coming years,” he said.
“Looking Forward” takes place starting at 4 p.m. on Aug. 19 at Italian Lake Park, N. 3rd and Division streets, Harrisburg. For more information about the Harrisburg Opera Association, visit www.harrisburg-opera.org or their Facebook page.