Two free concerts draw opera fans to parks

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Bill Marchese

The performers and conductor take bows at Opera in the Park in Palm Springs.
Photo by Lani Garfield

“Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and, instead of bleeding, he sings,” said Robert Benchley, the late American humorist.

Spoken in jest or not, people are rarely neutral about opera. You either love it or hate it. In Coachella Valley, enough people love it to support two ambitious opera groups.

In Palm Springs, the annual Opera in the Park, which is free and open to the public on April 12, draws thousands of people.
The same goes for the March 22 Opera Art Festival at the Palm Desert Civic Center Park, also free and family friendly.

Festival of Opera and Art

A non-profit organization, Opera Arts has brought more than 20 musical programs, with an emphasis on opera and operetta, to the valley over the past five years.

On Sunday, March 22, the Festival of Opera and Art is set for the Palm Desert Civic Center Park at Fred Waring Drive and San Pablo Avenue, behind City Hall. It is a family-friendly event running from 10:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., featuring art, music, food, crafts and activities for children. There’s face painting and magic acts for kids, high school artwork on display, performances by the Two Vaughn’s and Javier plus Gale Enger on keyboard. Opera Festival begins at 2 p.m. with a 20-minute break between acts.

Food and non-alcoholic beverages will be on sale. Bring a blanket, chairs and umbrellas for a day in the park. Opera Arts also sponsors other concerts such as “Opera Under the Stars” on April 19 and “Birds of a Feather” on April 26, each with admission of $125 per person.

Arlene Rosenthal, president of Opera Arts, who has worked with non-profit music, opera and other organizations for more than 25 years, said her greatest challenge is “making sure you have funding in place for the quality programming you are offering to the public.” Opera Arts runs on low overhead and everyone is a volunteer, including Rosenthal, who as president also answers the phone and takes care of email.

Palm Springs Opera Guild

All concerts sponsored by the guild are free and open to the public, including its signature “Opera in the Park,” set for all day Sunday, April 12 at Sunrise Park in Palm Springs. Eight young singers will take center stage with a 25-piece professional orchestra, and a conductor for a combination of opera and classical music. Last year, an estimated 8,000 people attended this event.

Along with Opera in the Park, the guild brings opera and music programs to local schools, tailoring to grade levels from kindergarten to high school seniors. The educational programs include singers, piano accompanist and a narrator interacting with the students.

The guild also supports and encourages young singers with financial and other assistance. It also makes opera and classical music available to senior citizens, often for the first time in their lives.

The Palm Springs Opera Guild was started in 1968 by three women, Vicki Malouf, Diva Lily Pons and Mimi Rudolph, each a major force for the arts in the 1960s and 1970s. The mission has grown to include a program to bring opera into local schools and other educational programs.

Opera Arts, www.OperaArtsPalm Springs.org, (760) 323-8353

Palm Springs Opera Guild, www.palmspringsoperaguild.org, (760) 325-6107.