Outdoor Opera

Opera doesn’t only happen in opera houses.

Don’t get me wrong — I love opera houses.  When I lived in Italy, I embarked upon my own personal “Opera House Tour,” visiting famous opera houses from Milan to Palermo. I have nothing against sweeping staircases, painted ceilings, gilded ornamentation, glittering chandeliers and plush velvet seats. The acoustics in many opera houses are wonderful. And there is a special joy in singing to a house full of opera lovers!

But opera is a thriving and dynamic art form; it cannot be contained! People are singing opera everywhere these days: on lakes, in parking garages, and in Swedish living rooms. Travis Pratt even sings Rossini in elevators.

Personally, I love to sing outdoors. Some of my favorite concerts have been outside: on a Hawaiian beach, in a friend’s backyard, in the middle of the Sequoia National Forest, and in the courtyard of an ancient museum in Nepal.  I occasionally sing while kayaking and parasailing.

For me, there is something thrilling about singing to the ocean.  Last week, I went beach camping with my family near Santa Barbara.  It was a wonderful vacation, but I didn’t really have anywhere to sing.  So one afternoon, I hiked up on a a little cliff and sang Gershwin to the sea: “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…” It felt great to sing in the open air.  And at the end of my aria, I was rewarded with applause from the beach below! My audience consisted of 1 snorkeler, 2 kayakers,  a few hikers, and several seagulls.  Spontaneous concerts can be fun.

Opera is everywhere. 🙂


Beach Music

I love falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the beach.

When I was growing up, my family went beach camping every summer, so I remember falling asleep to that glorious noise. There’s nothing quite like it.

And that “beach music” stays with me, even when I travel. But when I’m away from home for too long, I start to  miss my ocean.  I feel like my body is calibrated to the rhythms of the Pacific.  I can’t really appreciate the sultry, salty water of the Mediterranean, or the quick and nervous tempo of Atlantic tides.  I crave slow, powerful waves that take a full 7 seconds to breathe in … and breathe out.

We have had “bikini weather” here in Los Angeles over the past few days. On Saturday, the sky was so blue that I decided to hit the bike path in Hermosa Beach. The path extends from South Torrance all the way to Malibu, and it’s a little slice of Americana, all by itself. Everywhere you look, there are people having fun: roller blading, walking their dogs, selling sunglasses, sitting in outside cafés or playing beach volleyball in the sand. This is true beach city culture.  California cool.

And as I pedaled along the bike path, I tried to think of all of the operas that are set on beaches.  Oberon comes to mind immediately.  I once had the chance to sing Rezia’s aria to the ocean, “Ozean! du Ungeheuer,” while aboard the Queen Mary!  And how about Ariadne auf Naxos?  Ariadne has been abandoned on the Greek island of Naxos and sings her aria from a large rock.  Perhaps it could look like this?  And Amelia’s aria from Simon Boccanegra is also sung on a beach.

What is it about beaches that inspires people to sing?  There must be dozens of Italian and German songs that praise the sun and the sea and the sand!  And then there’s always the Beach Boys. 😉

Anyway, I think there should be more opera on the beach!   There are some logistical issues, and some acoustical issues, but it can work. In 2009, I sang at the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, and we performed a full concert at a beach resort on the Big Island.  I sang Puccini under the stars with my feet in the sand.  It felt wonderful, and I later found out that the ocean had carried my voice down the beach, so that Butterfly’s aria could be heard half a mile away!

I now live on a hill above the ocean, and from here, I can’t quite hear the pounding of the surf.  So as I drift off to sleep, I’ll just have to imagine a beach opera.  Buona notte.