Opera in the air in Pittsburgh's Market Square
By Mark Kanny
Published: Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Opera filled the air midday Sept. 26 when Pittsburgh Opera opened its 75th season — not in a theater, but under a tent in Market Square.
It was the first of three consecutive weekly operatic performances at the Farmers Market.
The Downtown market attracts thousands of people over the course of the day, an uncommonly diverse crowd of shoppers from all over Pittsburgh, as well as business people on their lunch breaks.
The weather was a perfect for an early fall day — clear and sunny, but neither too hot nor too cold. Tables near the performance tent were filled with people having lunch or just listening to the music.
The singers performed the most popular operatic arias, duets and ensembles, including those from “Rigoletto,” “The Barber of Seville,” “Carmen” and “La Boheme,” with pianist Mark Trawka at the electronic keyboard.
“It was certainly an experience, that's for sure,” soprano Jasmine Muhammad said after concert.
She and tenor Daniel Curran sang the scene from Act I of “La Boheme,” where future lovers Rodolfo and Mimi introduce themselves to each other.
“The crowd seemed really receptive and enjoyed itself, and it was easy to feed off that,” Muhammad said. “And, it was a beautiful day, and that didn't hurt at all.”
One of those in the crowd, Moriah Hunt, 20, of the North Side loved all the different people who were in Market Square. She sings in church choir and rhythm and blues, but enjoyed the operatic music, too.
“It's good. I just wish they were singing in English. You don't know what they were singing about,” Hunt said. She was surprised to learn (“No way!”) that, during operas at the Benedum Center, translations are projected above the stage while the singers perform.
There were opera fans present, too. Shay Granzeier, 27, of Fox Chapel said she took a picture of Samantha Korbey singing the “Habanera” from “Carmen” and sent it to her mother with the note: “Be jealous.”
The Farmers Market in Market Square has become of center of Downtown life, according to Jeremy Waldrup, president of Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.
“Folks see this as part of their ritual in Downtown living,” he said. “We want to partner with (Pittsburgh artists) to expand the horizons of our Market Square patrons and provide fabulous instruments a chance to promote the work they do to the constituents that come every week.
“It's a win-win situation — amazing artists performing for our patrons and also, hopefully, advancing the mission of the opera — all in a beautiful setting with thousands of people.”
Vendors said the operatic music provided a good environment. Joyce Massucci of Joyce's Copper Kettle Fudge in Hayes-Lincoln usually listens to rock, but said she liked the cultural qualities the opera singers brought to the venue.
The most unusual vendor display was Underhill Farm Artisan Yarns. It included two sheep in a hay-filled pen, which became the target for lots of smartphone photo snapping.
“I like all types of music, from early jazz to Coldplay and Metallica,” said Underhill's Joe Wadlinger of Champion. “I really did enjoy the ‘Figaro' aria (‘Largo al factotum'), because it took me back to my childhood.”
The opera's season officially begins at the Benedum Center on Oct. 12 with a performance Giuseppe Verdi's “Aida.”
“We will have a very grand ball and opening night, but I couldn't think of a better appeal to Pittsburgh than this,” opera general director Christopher Hahn said. “The renovation and restoration of Market Square has been so important to making people feel better about themselves and Pittsburgh.
“I think the wide range of celebratory events for our anniversary is significant, but really, for us, in a funny way, the most important are these community-based events, like our brown-bag and rising-star concerts, where people also can enjoy great music for free. We want all of Pittsburgh to be able to be part of the celebration.”
Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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