Opera hits coming to Jasper County's outdoor venues

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May 15—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" debuted in Vienna, Austria, on May 1, 1786.

Now, 235 years later in Southwest Missouri, that Mozart piece and compositions from other opera giants like Giuseppe Verdi, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Georges Bizet will make up "Hits from Opera and Operetta." It's the latest performance from Heartland Opera Theatre.

On Thursday, four singers — Heidi Smorstad, Jordan Wilson, Jonathan Ray and Abby Hazlett — will perform at 6:30 p.m. at Carmine's Wood Fired Pizza's outdoor patio at Sixth Street and Joplin Avenue during Joplin's Third Thursday festivities. On Friday, the same show will be performed at Neosho's Big Spring Park, 309 W. Spring St. and at 3 p.m. Sunday, the singers will perform at Carthage's Central Park pavilion, 714 S. Garrison Ave. The music will wrap up Heartland's 22nd season, and each performance — roughly 45 minutes in length — is free to the public.

While many opera organizations throughout the nation are embracing pop-up outdoor concerts to become more accessible to more people, it's been a Heartland tradition for some time now.

"One of the trends in the opera world over the last few years is that people are really pushing opera outside the concert halls. ... It's where people think it belongs," said Emily Larson, Heartland's president. "Heartland has always done that; we've always been out in the community doing these types of events."

The three-night greatest hits show "is a great way to show people how much opera they actually know," she continued, adding with a chuckle, "They just don't know they know it."

Opera is ingrained in the America's pop culture, whether it's Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" being played during the helicopter attack in the movie "Apocalypse Now" or Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" being played via loudspeaker to prisoners in "The Shawshank Redemption." Even "The Simpsons" and some "Looney Tunes" cartoons have embraced opera in some way.

The free concerts will also be a way for Heartland's professionals to educate younger generations about opera and to show them that plenty of opera songs and musicals are written and performed in English, not the traditional Italian or some other language.

"I know a lot of young people in our area don't get exposed to opera music," said Maddison King, the director of the upcoming shows. "So when they get that opportunity, I think they are surprised and they find themselves really interested."

She said the beauty of playing during Third Thursday — where there are hundreds of families and children walking throughout downtown — is to have the opportunity of exposing younger generations to opera music.

"We hope people will enjoy themselves first and foremost, and we hope they will be happy to be hearing live music again together and in one space," Larson said. "And we hope they have fun and they connect with the music on some level."

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