- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2009

When the Washington National Opera’s season opener is simulcast on Saturday from the Kennedy Center to Nationals Park, some very special guests will be in attendance.

Five thousand military personnel and their families will be among the 25,000 expected at the ballpark Saturday night for the second annual Opera in the Outfield, a free simulcast on the stadium’s HD scoreboard of Gioachino Rossini’s iconic “The Barber of Seville,” “the most popular opera of all time” says WNO General Director Placido Domingo.

(Corrected paragraph:) The WNO sees its opening night “not just as an opera event, but as a community event,” says Neil Alpert, director of institutional relations for the opera company. “We made a conscious effort to make the military families a part of this and prove our larger responsibility to the community.”

“The Barber of Seville” is familiar to many thanks to its popular incarnation as Looney Tunes’ animated short “The Rabbit of Seville” with Bugs Bunny. Because it’s a comedy embedded in popular culture, Mr. Alpert explains, it will bring “soothing comfort” and the “power of laughter” to a group of people, especially children, who may be pining for their loved ones’ safe return from overseas or grieving for a father or husband killed or injured while serving.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is among the many public officials and military leaders serving on the event’s host committee. “American troops give of themselves every day, and in some ways, their families give just as much. ‘Opera in the Outfield’ will be a special night that the military personnel and their families can enjoy together,” he told The Washington Times via e-mail. “That Washington National Opera would dedicate their opening night to the armed forces is a testament to the company, and I’m honored to be involved in such a worthy cause.”

Stan Kasten, president of the Washington Nationals, will greet guests at the Kennedy Center and explain to the gathering that the performance is being seen by thousands at Nationals Park and underscore the evening’s tribute to those fighting for freedom.

The WNO has “confirmed the full color guard, and we’ll also have a performance by the Air Force Band playing the Armed Forces Medley,” says WNO media manager Michelle Pendoley. “Plus, we’ll be screening a feel-good message from the Armed Forces Foundation, and ‘The Rabbit of Seville.’ ”

Patricia Driscoll, executive director and president of the American Armed Forces Foundation, says many are apt to underestimate the military’s receptivity to the arts — particularly symphony and opera performances — assuming that as a whole, servicemen and -women prefer athletic events or pop concerts.

“We had 1,000 tickets snatched up in three days,” Ms. Driscoll recalls of the reaction after the seats for military families were reserved last month. “Opera is not for everybody, but this is a great way for us to introduce the opera and the arts to families in an environment where they can dress casually and have a good time outdoors.”

Mr. Agate adds that because operagoing is seen by many as an elite pastime - tickets for the Kennedy Center performance can cost as much as $600 - its widening accessibility to people of all backgrounds is a welcome change.

“We want everyone to see opera as beautiful, funny and fun,” he says.

• For more information, go to www.dc-opera.org.

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