By Dale King
Summers are usually fairly quiet for the Palm Beach Opera, much less hectic than the regular season that will launch in December with a rising-stars concert followed after with three mainstage opera productions of works by Verdi, Mozart and Johann Strauss II.
But this summer, the company is making its presence felt with a new series called Summer Opera Nights in an unusual venue: the Elizabeth Avenue Station in the developing West Palm Beach Warehouse District.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to engage our community and reach new audiences, particularly in our off-season, we’re introducing this series to share the experience of live opera in a relaxed, accessible environment,” said Managing Director David Walker.
The first show of three took place July 27. It starred bass-baritone Neil Nelson, and included operatic selections as well as games, refreshments and the camaraderie of other opera-friendly folks.
Similar events, also featuring Nelson, will be held Aug. 24 and Sept. 28, both Fridays, and at the same boutique venue. All programs run from 6-10 p.m. and allow time for music and games by alternating the two genres. One of the games includes a trivia contest based on opera selections in movies.
Nelson, a Jamaican-born singer who grew up in New York and has a degree from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston performed selections from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Bizet’s Carmen and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
In the upcoming season, Nelson will sing the role of Porgy during appearances with the South Florida Symphony at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale and at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. In addition to appearing with Palm Beach Opera, Nelson has sung with Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Berkshire Opera, Orlando Opera, The New York Harlem Opera Theater and the Tartar State Opera Theater in Kazan, Russia.
The opera singer said he is “glad to be part” of the summer series. “I appreciate the chance to bring my spin and my background to this audience,” Nelson said.Neil Nelson.[/caption
He thinks Palm Beach Opera is doing something good by offering shows in the off-season. “A lot of things in Florida are open only in season. But there is an off-season crowd, and I feel it’s a good thing to engage the community,” he said.
Nelson said he also enjoys performing close to home during the warm weather. A resident of Broward County with his wife, two daughters and a dog, the opera star is normally on the road during most of the year, traveling to shows nationally and internationally.
Palm Beach Opera officials said the Summer Nights programs are divided up so visitors can enjoy the games as well as music by Nelson, accompanied by pianist Anna Fateeva.
“Through diverse programs like Summer Opera Nights, we strive to create interest in the art form, bring new people to the opera and leave a lasting impact on Palm Beach County,” said Walker, the managing director. “Palm Beach Opera is dedicated to producing live opera at an international standard of excellence, and to enriching the life of the communities it serves with a diverse offering of educational programs.”
Walker said August and September programs will each feature different opera-based trivia games along with live music and refreshments. Children can also get temporary tattoos and take part in interactive craft stations.
The theme for the music and games on Aug. 24 and Sept. 28 have not yet been announced.
The opera company isn’t the only cultural organization to set foot in the artistic quarter being developed just south of downtown West Palm Beach. The Norton Museum of Art, closed until early 2019 for completion of a $100 million renovation, has set up programs in the Grandview Public Market, situated in the heart of the reviving urban mecca. A popular food hall was opened at that venue in February when Grandview joined the complex’s Elizabeth Avenue Station artisan retail shops.
“Summer Opera Nights is a great opportunity to visit West Palm Beach’s up-and-coming Warehouse District and experience opera in a casual setting,” Walker said, adding that a food truck will be on site.
The programs this year are being sponsored by Olive and Michael Schaeffer, who are loyal Palm Beach Opera subscribers and patrons. They have been attending performances and events, and serving as members of the Hospitality Committee, for the past four seasons. The Schaeffers live year-round in West Palm Beach.
Tickets for each Opera Nights event are $10 for adults, $5 for students, and free for children under 12. Tickets can be purchased at the door, online at pbopera.org, or by calling the box office at 561-833-7888. Admission includes one complimentary drink, and members of Palm Beach Opera Young Friends will receive a second drink for free.