It was, indeed, a grand night for singing on Aug. 27, in Ann Street Park as the melodies of four opera singers from the Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) wafted into the air.
This is year four of Opera! Pike! Park! performed for an adoring audience.
Javier Morales, the founder and artistic director of the opera, grew up listening to opera as his father always had it playing on the radio. Morales loved opera and is quite knowledgeable about it.
His inspiration piqued when soprano Elizabeth Rodrigues came to Puerto Rico to sing at his wedding to now-husband, Sean Strub. She sang Rusalka’s “Song to The Moon” by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak.
“Elizabeth’s performance reminded me of how powerful live opera can be,” Morales said.
‘Opera - in Milford - no way’
That was the spark that ignited his passion to bring opera to Milford five years ago.
People thought Morales was crazy at that time. “Opera - in Milford -no way!”
Many people only had stereotypical impressions of opera and didn’t understand it.
Morales proceeded and the first Opera! Pike! Park! was a sell-out. They didn’t even have enough programs.
So, it turned out “Yes, way” to opera in Milford.
Morales joined forces with José Melendez, assistant music director and orchestra librarian at AVA who brought the artists to Milford for the very first performance and continues to bring them today.
An audience this year of 575
Each year, the popularity of the opera has expanded. There were 575 people this year.
The opera is free, and people bring their blankets and coolers and sit on the grass. Seats under the tent are $10.
When Opera! Pike! Park! started, it was under the umbrella of the Milford Enhancement Committee.
This year, because of its growth and potential it became a 501(c)3 independent organization with its own board led by Jim Pedranti and including Rosanne Kalish, Carol Needleman, Sylvia Weir, Lisa Winkler and Cindy Stine.
The opera also received generous financial support from The Greater Pike Community Foundation, among others.
From Mozart to Gershwin
This year’s concert included a variety of arias from Verdi, Mozart, Puccini and Donizetti as well as familiar Broadway tunes like “I Got Rhythm,” “You’re Just in Love” and “Maria.”
The four artists have each won prizes and awards too numerous to mention.
Soprano Emily Margevich returned to the opera by popular demand.
Margevich exudes a special charm with her dramatic delivery of each aria and her very special collaboration with local children. Think of a combination of Maria Callas and Julie Andrews.
Last year she had the children performing “Do Re MI” which many audience members are still talking about. This year, they repeatedly sang “I Got” in “I Got Rhythm.” She really tries to imbue the children with a sense of the beauty of music.
Benjamin Dickerson is also a returning artist from last year and the only baritone. People in the audience were taken with his duets with Margevich.
Angel Gomez, tenor, has a huge voice and seems to be channeling Pavarotti. He even looks like the master.
Matthew Goodheart, a tenor, is a product of a musical family. Both his parents (Jean and Tom) are opera singers from Binghamton, N.Y. and now teach at Suny Binghamton. They were in the audience. I
t’s probably safe to say he cut his teeth on Mozart. Goodheart’s special style in describing an aria really connected with the audience.
Jim Pedranti remarked on the interest, support, and enthusiasm in the audience.
“This wonderful program speaks to my sole, said local fine artist John Polishook. “It warms my heart like no other music can and I’m so happy to have opera so close to home here in Milford.”
Opera buffs like Polishook are a mainstay of the audience, but as someone observed, the most interesting aspect of these performances is the fact that opera newbies and others are really getting to know and enjoy this genre.
When asked whether he ever thought that Opera! Pike! Park! would be this big and this successful, he responded, “I don’t think about it beyond trying to make it the best it can be!”
The story of this little opera is the embodiment of the phrase, “Build it and they will come!”
And they came, and came, and came. Morales has actually created a new cultural dimension in Pike County, which should last a very long time.
“It takes a village to put up this concert,” Morale said. “We” created this event. “