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Sunday in the park, with opera
A blanket invitation to the City's 2013 Forsyth Picnic

Picnic in the Park

Where: Forsyth Park

When: Sunday, Oct. 6. Picnic judging at 5 p.m. Savannah Philharmonic program at 7:15 p.m.

Admission: Free

Both Cooper Nolan and Lori Guilbeau have performed previously in Savannah. They're opera singers with strong national reputations, and the Savannah-based V.O.I.C.E. Experience has had them on local stages more than once.

Acclaimed tenor Nolan has sung with the Savannah Philharmonic, too, in La Boheme and Carmina Burana, and Metropolitan Opera soprano Guilbeau has been a shining star at nearly all the V.O.I.C.E.-sponsored opera showcases.

But the 2013 Picnic in the Park, taking place Sunday (Oct. 6) in Forsyth Park, will be a special occasion for both Nolan and Guilbeau, who happen to be longtime sweethearts.

"We rarely get to work together, so we're very excited," raves Nolan. "She's doing this big recital next year in New York, and of course I have a month off before, and two weeks after. Then she's giving the recital on the day I'm giving a performance in St. Louis. We'd love to go see each other sing, but when it rains, it pours — it always turns out that way.

"So this is fantastic. It's always a pleasure to be able to sing with Lori. It's fun to be able to do what we love to do together, instead of across the country."

For those of you new to our fair city, Picnic in the Park is one of those local traditions that goes back a ways — it originated in the 1980s — and seems to be little more than an excuse to get folks out onto the grass for a late-afternoon of family fun and fellowship.

Add "food" to the alliterative equation — and hey now, nothing could be finer.

Something like 20,000 people will attend the event, some to simply enjoy the ambiance and the Savannah Philharmonic's free program of symphonic works, from Bernstein to Strauss, some opera favorites and more.

Others will be there to compete for prizes in the annual pic-a-nic contest; this year's theme is Celebrate the Arts. Participants are encouraged to design a creative picnic spread inspired by any form of the arts.

These can get pretty creative, and colorful, and wacky. It's all part of the fun and the flavor.

(The City of Savannah also offers up these helpful hints for aspiring picnic designers: "ideas to spur your design ideas and perhaps your attire: Recreate a particular well known artwork [a tableau vivant] or design an artistically inspired picnic spread representing the art of painting, graphic arts, sculpture, fiber arts, an eclectic mix, or even a replica of a well-known monument, museum or inspired architecture. Contestants can also create a picnic motivated by performing arts, film and literature such as a favorite dance piece, a design based on a drama or musical production, a particular piece of music, or a particular musician or composer; create a still scene of a movie, perhaps one filmed in Savannah; a picnic based on a poem or a book depicting characters or scenes from that book. There are no limits to your creativity").

Picnic registration is free and begins at 4 p.m.; the judging is at 5.

In the second half of the evening's musical program, Nolan will sing something he's becoming famous for: The tender "Bring Him Home," from Les Miserables. It's a bittersweet ballad that includes high notes to test the mettle of any good tenor.

Ironically, Nolan didn't know he was capable of such vocal feats until he was singled out by his instructors at the University of Florida.

"I was always a choir guy, a classic musician in the choir vein," he reports. "My undergrad degree is actually in music education and choral conducting.

"That's the exact opposite of singing. It's to make a whole group sound like as few voices as possible. You want to blend in. And of course operatic singing, especially when you have a chorus behind you, is to make you sound as distinct as possible.

"And to be able to cut through all the noise that's happening behind you, with a full orchestra and chorus. It's the exact opposite concept."

But his choral professor heard something special in Nolan's voice, and encouraged him to audition for the opera program.

"As I was studying," Nolan says, "I was starting to sing in a way that I thought, 'I might be able to do this for a living.'

"And so I gave it a shot in my junior year. And it started to work out."