Opera for you
If the Cleveland Cultural Gardens isn’t on your top-10 things to see in Cleveland, put it there.
Rockefeller Park was set aside by John D. Rockefeller in the late-19th c. as Cleveland’s own version of Central Park — a lush splash of nature in the middle of the city — and the Cultural Gardens grew organically to reflect the history of immigration to Northeast Ohio.
It started in 1916 when Leo Weidenthal, father of the Cultural Gardens, dedicated the Shakespeare bust in what is now the British Garden. It was a big deal: actresses Julia Marlowe and Ethel Barrymore planted trees at the opening.
Hebrew and German amphitheaters followed the Shakespeare Garden to form Poet’s Corner. By the 1930s, the gardens expanded to 13 new spots. The Cultural Gardens were renamed and they born.
The Italian Cultural Garden is one of the earliest settlers in the park. Imagine more than 3,000 local Italians congregating in October 1930 on a swath of green at Parkgate Avenue between Martin Luther King and East Boulevards. They were celebrating Columbus Day and Virgil’s 2000th birthday with the dedication of the still-standing bust of the Roman poet.
Modest beginning for what’s now one of the most elaborate, elegant and must-see stops on the garden tour. It’s a two-level garden designed in the spirit of Italian Renaissance, featuring two curved staircases, a huge marble fountain, a stone parapet and a block of stone hewn from the side of Monte Grappa. Medallions, insets and statues abound, honoring the artists, poets, composers and inventors that spark pride in Italian heritage.
But one of the most prideful parts of the garden is the annual Opera in the Italian Garden concert, which happens this Sunday, July 21, in the Italian Cultural Garden.
Opera Per Tutti (“opera for all”) opera company performs Puccini, Verdi, Leonvacallo, Tosti, Bellini and Rossini around the Renaissance Fountain. Bring a chair, bring a family, bring a picnic. Opera fan or not, you’ll get lost in the music, the voices, the atmosphere. It’s yet another event in Cleveland that no one expects to find here, but only because they’re not looking.
The event is free, but packs up fast. Get there early, and ditch the car. Consider making an afternoon/early evening of it. Bike through the Cultural Gardens, from University Circle to the Shoreway. Brush up on your Cleveland Cultural Garden history and indulge in an international, historical journey all within city limits.
Opera in the Italian Cultural Garden
Opera Per Tutti performs classic Italian arias around the Renaissance Fountain. Performance is Sunday, July 21, 6-7:30 p.m. in the Italian Cultural Garden at Parkgate Avenue and East Boulevard (get event details). Street parking is available. Carpooling, cycling and bussing are recommended. Get. There. Early.