OAKLAND -- On Saturday, opera will, for the fourth year, fill the air in Dimond Park when professional opera singers perform well-known arias from "Il Trovatore," "Rigoletto," "La Boheme," "Tosca," "La Traviata," "Porgy and Bess" and others.
The free event, sponsored by the Dimond Recreation Center, local donors and Open Opera organization, encourages everyone to come and enjoy an up-close-and-personal experience while the powerful and joyous sounds of opera in the public park bring the community together.
Dimond Park is an ideal setting, with chairs set up under the trees, a large grassy area and picnic tables, to welcome young and old, families with children, opera lovers and newcomers to listen as 14 singers and two pianists perform 21 pieces, including "Summertime" and "Libiamo" over a two-hour period.
No prior opera knowledge is needed since Ellen St. Thomas, co-founder, executive director and coordinator of Open Opera, gives a brief explanation before each selection, describing what is going on in the music.
Four years ago, Dimond District resident Leona Narita won a complete Open Opera performance as the grand prize in a raffle and chose Dimond Park as its location. Since then, community members have raised the funds to continue the event. This year, those members include Narita, Bruce Jacobs, Rochelle Galat, Leslie Ann Jones, Karen Long, Karen Marie Schroeder and Dimond Park Recreation Supervisor Michelle Doppelt.
"All the people supporting this are community people and it has gotten more popular every year," Long said. "People of all ages come. It's different and it's fun."
The organization behind the concert,
Open Opera, was founded in 2008 by Olivia Stapp, Elizabeth Baker and St. Thomas, when they decided that there was a need to bring affordable opera to people.
They chose as their mission to bring free professional opera to Bay Area parks, using public spaces to build community through the arts.
They hope to establish new audiences for classical music.
"The public park is just the perfect place to bring people together," St. Thomas said.
"There's something about the open air and the intimacy because you're really very close to the opera singers when you come to these concerts; you can hear the power of the voice. It's a very exciting thing."
This year's singers include Eileen Meredith, Ellen St. Thomas, Heather McFadden, Raymond Chavez, Michael Dailey, Elliot Ngyuen, Jenny Matteucci and pianists James Meredith and Daniel Lockert.
"This year is really exciting because we've invited a quartet, Marcelle Dronkers, Dawn Farry, Mike Kratz, and Paul Cheak, so the operagoers will be getting a lot more ensemble music," St. Thomas said.
"People love to hear ensemble singers because they hear four singers singing at the same time and it's very powerful.
"So I've got lots more ensembles this year than any other year."
Attending a professional opera performance is expensive but with Open Opera, listeners get international quality singing for free and the open, public setting creates an informal atmosphere that puts everyone at ease.
"There's something really powerful about classical music and about the human voice at its highest capacity which is opera.
"When people attend, they just feel like they're part of something special -- artistically, communitywide and musically, just the whole thing," St. Thomas said.
"There's a real connection with the singers."
The Dimond Park setting is spacious with more than enough room for more than the 200 who attended last year.
"It's a community experience, and you can learn about a different kind of music," Long said.
"The selections are really gorgeous, and it's beautiful."
What: Opera in Dimond Park
When: 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Dimond Park, 3860 Hanly Road, Oakland
Details: The event is held in the barbecue area near the Fruitvale entrance. The event is free but donations are accepted at the end of the concert.