The Playgoer: Opera on Tap

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Opera on Tap

An interesting profile in the NY Sun today about the success a Brooklyn bar has had with opera nights in its backroom. These "Opera on Tap" are giving young singers a chance to connect with crowds their own age for a change, and in a context that celebrates just talent and music...not ossified--and, of course, classist--ideas of "culture."

In the words of a 31-yr-old singer and co-founder of the events:

"We didn't realize that there was this whole group of people who had never heard classical music or an operatic voice — and not this close up, in this kind of atmosphere," which she describes as noisy, un-elitist, imperfect, and fun...
What catches me is the "this close up." That intimacy is what we've lost in the arts in general, especially theatre. I've always believed what would change anyone's mind who thought they hated theatre would be to put them in a great front-row seat in front of a great actor. Our huge institutional houses have put as at so many removes from the performer that we've become numbed to the charge of the live artist-audience exchange. On Broadway, for instance, audiences are led to expect actors' voices and bodies to be miked and buried under layers of computerized scenery. The result, I fear, is we've lost some appreciation of the immediate, of the live exchange.

Many of the great revolutions in the theatre have involved redefining the nature of the playing space. This doesn't just mean we need to do more theatre in bars.... although that wouldn't be a bad start. (It's flourished in London and Chicago, for instance.) But what we should take from that model is the tangibility of a community. It's no accident that cabarets have been a fulcrum of so much important political theatre over the years.

It's not the only kind of theatre. But audiences--and performers--need to be reminded that it's still an option.


June said...

I must pick a fight with you at some point, but ... I agree with you yet again.

Recently, my downstairs neighbor, who's a budding operatic soprano, invited people to her apartment for an impromptu concert--she and a friend hired a pianist and did a short recital. I've been to a lot of opera, and I've heard singers with much more developed technique and infinitely better instruments, but I've never felt the peculiar force of classical singing quite so strongly.

Many of the guests had never heard true sopranos before--some were freaked out, but most were intrigued and impressed.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. My hope is that enough people start to realize that the true power of theatre comes from, as you said, the immediacy of the performance and the presence of the performer - and then we can reform the theatre from what it is into something that matters again.

Anonymous said...

The problem of over-production is happening everywhere theatre happens, I suspect. (I live in a small community with a largish theatre.) Perhaps we should be glad that theatre exists so widely. Even so, the culprit may be technology, which, while it allows this conversation we're having to happen, also allows the technical aspect of theatre to roar forward, while humans, as usual, toddle behind.