Music Review: A Cool Opera On Tap

Opera on Tap, wearing horns, brings Mozart to the people.

Opera on Tap is designed to be surprising and fun – what other opera performance encourages its singers to walk right up to your table warbling high C notes?

Opera on Tap at Oberon, September 26 and 27

By Chantal Mendes

World famous opera master Luciano Pavarotti wouldn’t have been caught dead performing on a stage in blue jeans and a button down. Then again, he probably would never have taken a break in the middle of an aria to sip a glass of beer or to stand on top of a bar serenading a small pocket mirror either – unless he was gigging with Opera on Tap.

Billing themselves as “the theatre company that drinks,” Opera on Tap is a non-profit organization based out of New York that delivers a unique operatic experience. Dedicated to popularizing a new form of opera that is more interactive and much less yawn-worthy than folks are used to, Opera on Tap creates an enjoyable atmosphere that jettisons long-haired preconceptions of sophistication and superiority.

A mix of OOT veterans from chapters that have been established in Ann Arbor, Chicago, and New York (along with fresh young Boston talent), descended on the Oberon two nights ago determined to make opera funky. Dressed in street clothes and nursing beers or mixed drinks they sang their hearts out to a seemingly enthusiastic and receptive crowd.

It’s all really very progressive, but does it actually work?

There’s a reason why opera seems intrinsically snooty. Traditionally an upper-class pastime, the opera is renowned for its high maintenance singers and elegantly luxurious sets and venues that are built to dazzle the eye. Opera on Tap takes that idea and turns it on its head. Stuffiness is banned and “accessible” is the evening’s buzz word.

The problem on Sunday night was the initial clunky feel to the program. It’s designed to be cool and fun – what other opera performance can you go to where the singers walk right up to your table warbling out high C notes? But my first impression was that OOP was trying much too hard to let its hair down. Transitions between songs were hurried, awkward, and confusing.

At the introduction of one piece, Anne Ricci, self-proclaimed OOT diva, and two of her fellow Tappers stood on stage looking dazed and disorientated, talking over each other until they just abandoned the project altogether and started the set without a cohesive explanation of what they were about to perform. It was hard to tell if it was all a part of the act or intentional.

Maybe the assumption is that anyone can fall in love with Opera given the right opportunity, but the first thirty or so minutes of the show was definitely not my romantic cup of tea. Then somehow, after a brief intermission, Opera on Tap found the way to touch my heart. Suddenly the transitions that seemed awkward and even stilted started flowing like the beer the performers were downing.

I wouldn’t call the first part of the night the most painful hour of my life watching a show, but it was up there. The second half, however, was everything good opera should be. And I actually enjoyed it. The singers used brief vignettes to introduce their songs, adding a theatricality that made the performances much more meaningful. When Scott Reiburn dedicated a song to Cathy, his 6th grade teacher to whom he dramatically declared his true love, it’s touching instead of laughable.

One of the new tappers brilliantly took on the role of Ptolemy, the crazed boy-king who paces back and forth furiously spitting out ideas for punishing his imprisoned sister Cleopatra. Drawing on a shockingly ambitious vocal range, he gets to show off his prowess as an opera singer and actor, biting his nails as he tramps back and forth across the stage in a display of such overblown emotion that you’re afraid he’s going to start frothing at the mouth.

But what ultimately won me over and what could arguably be considered the most innovative part of the show was the American section. Going to the opera bores some English-speaking audience members because the lyrics, in many operas, are not sung in English. For some this can be a huge turn-off: why attend a performance if you can’t understand a word anyone is saying? But Anne Ricci is clever. By adding a section that deals with the American opera at the end of the show she ensures that there is a little something for everyone.

Ultimately, despite the rough patches, Opera on Tap succeeds at what they’ve set out to do. They’ve created a show comprised of talented and dedicated performers that connect with the audience by showing them that an evening of opera can be cool.

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  1. Shelley on September 30, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Maybe because I’m a writer, the idea behind this performance reminds me of the Gatz idea of actors onstage reading the novel The Great Gatsby–mostly the real thing (Gatsby) but also some “acting-out”!

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