When most people think of the opera, they probably picture elderly, wealthy folk in floor-length ball gowns and tuxedos, not picnickers lounging in Hawaiian-print shirts. The Harrisburg Opera Association is out to change that.
The Opera Association is returning for a second straight year of free opera in Italian Lake Park and its first full season after a 10-year hiatus. The association will put on two shows in August: “Opera in the Park” and its mainstage production, “An Artists’ Journey.”
“[These events] bring world-class music to Harrisburg,” said Tami Swartz, executive and artistic director of the association. “People who perform with us have major national and international careers.”
In early August, “Opera in the Park,” an educational show for all ages, will take audience members to exotic places, with opera pieces from around the world. Guests are encouraged to dress in Hawaiian-themed dress and bring picnic blankets and chairs for a casual night at Italian Lake, rain or shine.
Two weeks later, a mainstage production, “An Artists’ Journey,” depicts Swartz’s experiences of feeling different while growing up in Harrisburg as a mixed-race person. The 15-song piece, written by Swartz, actually boasts a variety of music ranging from rock to classical. Short acting vignettes supplement songs to move the piece forward.
“I said [to the cast], ‘I want you all to bring your own personal experiences into these songs because I think every single one of us in this cast has felt that we’re different,’” Swartz said. “Whether it’s cultural, racial, or sexual orientation, we all feel different. The composition is actually dedicated to everyone who is different.”
When casting her shows, Swartz tries to hire a diverse cast of local professional artists, hoping to distinguish herself from former artistic directors.
“We’re every color of the rainbow, and I’m hoping to make every production look like the cast of Hamilton,” Swartz said. “We want to share the love.”
Swartz, who works part time in New York City, said that, through opera, she wants to give back to the community that raised her.
“You get to the point where you’ve amassed all this knowledge that it’s time to apply it and give it back in a leadership position,” Swartz said. “You come back to your hometown and you give back what you’ve learned to enrich your home community.”
Opera in the Park is a free event held on Sunday, Aug. 11 at 4 p.m. at Italian Lake, Harrisburg. “An Artists’ Journey” is held on Aug. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in Messiah College’s Miller Theatre. Ticket are $25 for adults and can be purchased at www.messiah.edu/tickets. Visit the Harrisburg Opera Association’s website for more information: http://harrisburg-opera.org/season.html.