Shoppers and downtown workers on their lunch break Thursday (Jan. 29) were startled to hear strains of “Bess, you is my woman now” from Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess floating across the wide plaza in front of San Diego Civic Theatre. A crowd of a hundred or so avid listeners stood or sat on the steps of the adjacent office building to take in the 45-minute free concert put on by San Diego Opera, a tradition that the newly reconstituted company is reviving now that the 50th anniversary season has been launched with a well-received production of Puccini’s La bohème.
These free noon hour concerts were a tradition until a few years ago, when the former opera adminsitration eliminated them to save money. It should be noted, however, that at that same time the General Director’s salary kept increasing.
Nine young singers from music departments at San Diego State University and Point Loma Nazarene University offered a variety of arias and duets from familiar operas such as La Bohème, The Magic Flute, Pagliacci, and The Barber of Seville, as well as from a few more obscure works such as Mozart’s early opera La finta giardiiera and Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys.
Nicolas Reveles, the company’s Director of Education and Community Engagement, acted as bothgenial host and faithful accompanist to the singers, all of whom have participated in San Diego Opera’s new Opera Exposed initiative that is structured to give selected aspiring university singers opportunities to experience and observe productions both in preparation and final performance. These young singers also perform outreach recitals throughout San Diego County, with a focus on neighborhoods where opera has had little exposure.
The next Opera on the Concourse is slated for Thursday, Feb. 19, featuring singers from the cast of the company’s second opera of the season, Mozart’s Don Giovanni. And the final noon free concert will be given Thursday, March 19, featuring singers from John Adams’ Nixon in China, which will just have opened.