Opera on Tap Review: Blowing Minds in the Backroom

By James Monroe Števko

Mission statement:

“We want to find those people out there that have never heard an opera, never sat inside of a concert hall, are intimidated by the mere mention of classical music and think it’s only for the rich white people, and we want to sing for them and blow their minds.”

Well, consider mission accomplished. Opera On Tap NYC has been fulfilling their promises since 2005, in the back room of the Brooklyn dive bar, Freddy’s.

While New York is in limbo between spring and summer, this now national network of opera singers assembled an evening of weather-related arias with cameos by Rogers and Hammerstein and Bernstein. This ‘open mic’ like setting has been pretty standard for the musical theater scene, but classical events like this are in recent years growing in popularity.

The not-for-profit organization was originally an outlet for classically trained singers to create their own performance opportunities. In a city teeming with artists competing for few jobs, sometimes the best way to get an audience is to make it yourself!

Since 2005, OOT spans the USA with 16 chapters and dedicated audiences, presumably each with their own unique, seedy pub. The original NYC chapter is under the umbrella of the New York Opera Alliance, which promotes the astonishing number of underground and indie opera companies throughout the 5 boroughs.

I entered the performance space on Thursday night, May 11, and was eager to learn what the program had in store for my night of drinkin….I MEAN opera. An art form plagued with a stigma of pompous stuffiness was taking place in a den of the devil’s water, so I was determined to throw caution to the wind and enjoy myself.

A brief introduction by the director and the program began with Mozart, as if to remind me “Yes, I am in a bar watching opera”. Following in musical review-styled suite, the performance progressed from  Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” to forlorn French Romantic “Manon” back to the other “R and J” opera by Gounod.

After the final penetrating pronouncement of Juliet’s Poison Aria, “Je bois à toi. JE BOIS À TOI!”, I suddenly had the urge for a second drink.

An intermission allowing a trip to the bar ended and the crowd reseated themselves for the second half, heavy on contemporary music with “Thing Change Jo” from Adamo’s Little Women and Anne Trulove’s Aria from “The Rake’s Progress” by Stravinsky. Broadway’s second selection, after first half’s Soliloquy from “Carousel”, was an “I Feel Pretty,” half in Spanish as arranged by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

As I was mourning the bottom of my Stella Artois, the evening concluded with a gleefully psychotic Tom Lehrer, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.”

Dazzling moments included Joanie Brittingham with her incredibly nuanced and musical approaches to the “Snowmaiden” Aria and the pigeon slaughter song; the soulful mood of Eugenia Forteza in “Adieu notre petite table;” and coloratura of Victoria Benson and Laura Soto-Bayomi. Luckily, to fill out the high-pitched program were mezzo Brittany Fowler and lone male baritone, Luke van Meveren, both with rich, resonant tones. Nicholas Place was the evening’s piano man.

It seemed blasphemous that there was so much bright talent was hidden behind the bar walls like a Mafia meeting, but as they say “it felt so wrong, but it felt so right.”

Stay tuned to NYOperaAlliance.org and OperaonTap.org/newyork for more low-key performances by NYC’s talent, because unlike the Met, you can actually take a drink inside. Or one in each hand!




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