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North Carolina Opera’s May 9th “Opera in the Pines” Concert at Koka Booth Amphitheatre Was Stellar

The North Carolina Opera presented "Opera in the Pines" on May 9th in Cary's Koka Booth Amphitheatre

The North Carolina Opera presented “Opera in the Pines” on May 9th in Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre

Okay, we’ll admit that we come to this review with a certain level of bias. We love Koka Booth Amphitheatre at Regency Park in Cary, NC. It is simply one of the best venues in the Triangle to hear live music. It’s the perfect balance of space, ambiance, and acoustics.

You are outside under a canopy of pines with a view of a lake. You reach it by traveling a winding path through a tall stand of pines. You can bring a picnic, some wine, a blanket, and lawn chairs and dine during the concert. But if the thought of ants makes you itchy, you can reserve a linen-covered table on a raised stage and buy your food and drink on-site. It’s just a gorgeous venue. Throw in an award-winning stage designed to maximize the acoustics, and you’ve got the makings of one fine evening!

Though the Raleigh area was drenched by numerous thunderstorms throughout the day on Saturday, May 9th, by the start of the North Carolina Opera’s Opera in the Pines concert, the sky had cleared, and there was a crisp breeze. It was a perfect night for music. We are sure the wet grass kept some folks at home. That was the wrong decision, as there was nary a drop of rain by concert time; and the concert was stellar.

We are blessed that Raleigh has its own very talented North Carolina Opera company. We are doubly blessed to be able to attract visits from the likes of soprano D’Ana Lombard, mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko, and baritone Tim Mix. They have all spent time in the greatest opera companies around the world, from the Metropolitan Opera of New York City to singing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Saturday night, they were backed very capably by our very own North Carolina Symphony, so it was a two-for-one treat.

The program was a sampler, if you will, of songs from many different operas. This is a perfect way for the uninitiated to get a taste of the wonders of opera. You’re not committed to an entire production, with its set changes, costume changes, and drama. It’s merely dipping your toe into the opera pond and enjoying the beauty of the songs, the voices and, of course, the music.

Conductor Timothy Myers chose Saturday’s song list from many celebrated classics such as Carmen, Don Carlos, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly. But he also chose lesser-known, but quite moving numbers from Eugene Onegin and The Girl of the Golden West (La fanciulla del West). Myers had a great rapport with the audience. Before each song, he explained the storyline and what the song was about; and then the singers glided onto the stage, took their places at the microphone, and the magic would begin. Those voices! Those voices!


Songs were sung in French, Italian, and English. The singers clearly loved the songs, as they toyed and flirted with the audience and each other. There were even a few laughs. For instance, after mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko sang a song from Carmen about catching her man, she took the red flower from her hair and dropped it on the stage and exited. The next song was sung by Tim Mix, and he gamely picked up the flower as he took the stage and eagerly watched her go by. It was charming fun.

And for those of you who think of opera as stuffy, think again. During one selection, a local troupe of youth musicians, Kidznotes, joined the symphony and had an opportunity to play for the audience alongside the professionals. In another homey section, a gal who won a contest was given the opportunity try her hand at the helm as conductor. After her song, she got cheers from the crowd. As she took her bow, conductor Tim Myers told the audience that he’d better be careful because he might be out of a job.

Take our word for it — opera is wonderful, and nowadays most opera companies have supertitles above the stage, so that you know exactly what the singers are saying! Break out of your routine and check out the North Carolina Opera, especially if you can do so at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre. You’ll love it.

Opera. It’s not just for breakfast anymore.

SECOND OPINION: May 7th Raleigh, NC WNCN interview with North Carolina Opera general director Eric Mitchko and Kidznotes executive director Katie Wyatt, conducted by Valonda Calloway and Alex Butler for “My Carolina Today”:; and May 7th Raleigh, NC WRAL interview with North Carolina Opera artistic director and principal conductor Timothy Myers, conducted by Bill Leslie:

OPERA IN THE PINES (North Carolina Opera, May 9 at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre at Regency Park in Cary, NC).

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Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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