By Ann Reily
---- — A lot of time and effort goes into planning a Symphony by the Sea concert.
For the chamber orchestra’s season-opening concerts tonight and Sunday, music director and conductor Donald Palma put a lot of thought into his selection of arias and choruses by Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, Mozart and others.
“I spent months putting this program together and getting the right mix of pieces and the right order,” Palma said. “It’s kind of a compilation of some of the greatest operatic chestnuts or gems combined with some lesser-known pieces.”
In celebration of its 33rd season, the North Shore-based orchestra is continuing its efforts to reach out to younger audiences by offering a $10 discount on tickets to those age 33 and under.
“I think it’s really important to reach out to the younger generations to come in and have that concert experience,” Palma said. “The idea of the programming is that it’s music that’s accessible, it can be entertaining, but at the same time, it can also stimulate your emotions, your intellect, all those things that great music is meant to do.”
The group also hopes to widen its accessibility by adding a new venue next year, with two spring concerts taking place in the Firehouse Center for the Arts.
“We’re looking forward to being right in downtown Newburyport,” Palma said.
This Sunday’s concert, called “Rejoice: An Opera Gala,” will be held at The Governor’s Academy in Byfield, where Symphony by the Sea has been performing regularly. “Rejoice” will also be presented tonight at Abbot Hall in Marblehead.
In addition to the orchestra, the concert will feature the Endicott Singers, a group of 38 students from Endicott College in Beverly directed by Rebecca Kenneally, and soloists Sara Heaton and Joshua Dennis.
Heaton, who also performed in last season’s Opera Gala, has sung with Santa Fe Opera’s Spring Opera Tour.
“She has just a wonderful, incredible voice,” Palma said. “I don’t think you’re going to hear a better soprano anywhere.”
Tenor Joshua Dennis just completed his apprenticeship with Santa Fe Opera and is joining the orchestra for the first time.
“He’s been really a great discovery and a pleasure to work with,” Palma said. “I like to give opportunity to young artists who are kind of just breaking through in their careers.”
Heaton and Dennis will sing both duets and solo arias, as well as with the Endicott Singers.
“It’s a nice mix of Italian and Austrian opera,” said Palma, who is entering his fifth season with the orchestra. “It’s all phenomenal music, and it’s such a pleasure to get to work on it.”
“Rejoice” will end on a high note, with the audience encouraged to sing along with “The Drinking Song” from Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Lyrics will be printed in the program.
This season, Palma has also put together programs featuring music inspired by the religious and folk traditions of Eastern Europe and a performance of Joaquin Rodrigo’s famous guitar concerto.
On Feb. 27 in Marblehead and March 2 in Newburyport, “Commemorate: Religious and Folk Traditions in the Concert Hall” will include Palma, a double bassist, singing Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidre.”
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Palma said. “They’ve been asking for this for a few years. This just seemed like the best opportunity.”
The concert will also include Ernest Bloch’s “From Jewish Life,” three pieces by John Williams from “Schindler’s List” and a klezmer group assembled by Jim Guttman.
“This is a real departure,” Palma said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The season’s last concert, on May 1 in Marblehead and May 4 in Newburyport, will feature Belgian guitarist Jerome Mouffe in a program called “Feast: On the Music of Mozart and More.”
Palma wanted to play with the bitter rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, which was highlighted in the movie “Amadeus.” So the concert begins with Salieri’s Symphony in D Major, “La Veneziana,” and ends with Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 in A major.
In between, Mouffe will perform Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.”
“He’s an absolutely outstanding virtuoso guitarist,” Palma said. “It’s a light, exciting, upbeat program.”
If you go
What: “Rejoice: An Opera Gala”
When: Sunday, 3 p.m.
Where: Wilkie Center for the Performing Arts, The Governor’s Academy, 1 Elm St., Byfield
How much: $35 for adults ($25 for those 33 and younger), $5 for students in kindergarten through grade 12. Discounts available for subscriptions.
More information: www.symphonybythesea.org