If you like a little beer with your opera, you’re living in the right neighborhood. About 10 years ago, Anne Hiatt, a lyric soprano, had a conversation in a local bar that led to the founding of Opera on Tap, a fun, casual series of events that bring classical singers to unexpected venues — namely, bars — presenting the music to people who may not be familiar with it. But with a pint in hand, they listen, learn, and even laugh.
Opera on Tap now has chapters all over the country, but our local arm is still going strong, and they’ll be performing tonight, Friday, February 6 at 8pm at Barbes, 376 9th Street at 6th Avenue, and it’s a celebration of all things Michigan — including a range of beers from that state’s Bell’s Brewery.
For those who’ve never been to a performance, we asked Hiatt to give us a little background about the organization, some things to expect (hint: if there’s a doctor in the house, that’s for the best!), tips for pairing beers with Puccini, and more.
South Slope News: Tell us a bit about how Opera On Tap got started.
Anne Hiatt: The idea of presenting barroom opera performances came about through a conversation between myself and Don O’Finn, the owner of Freddy’s Bar and Backroom. I was sitting at his bar lamenting the fact that unlike the bands that played at Freddy’s, classical singers had little opportunity to let their hair down and just sing for fun without the pressure to be perfect. I was in my late 20s and less than satisfied with where I found myself career-wise as an opera singer, and very weary of the relentless audition circuit. Don proposed a ‘diva night’ in the backroom. I thought it was a fantastic idea. I managed to get a couple of my closest girlfriends (also opera singers) to help organize the night. We got several performers we knew from grad school to come out for it.
It was an immediate success and a revelation. We found a very receptive new audience at Freddy’s — one that was curious, but not necessarily familiar with our art form. And they liked the idea of ‘trying it out’ in a less formal environment. The casualness of the evening was like a breath of fresh air for everyone in the room, performers included.
That was back in 2005. We still sing at Freddy’s at their new location in the Slope.
Since that first night, we’ve incorporated as a non-profit with the mission of bringing opera to new audiences while at the same time supporting the artists that continue to keep it alive, and have developed into a national organization with 17 chapters across the country. Barroom opera has become my career!
For someone who’s never been to one of your events — or, perhaps, opera of any kind — explain a bit about what makes them different.
At an Opera on Tap event, you won’t find a smack of pretension. Feel free to wear jeans and drink drinks — the performers will be wearing and drinking the same. Do be prepared to possibly be swept up into a dramatic scene or become the target supernumerary of a conniving soprano. Be prepared to hear a diverse array of operatic repertoire spanning many languages, centuries and cultures. Be prepared to chuckle at bawdy tenor jokes and feel free to converse with our performers. Oh, and if you need to go to the bathroom mid-aria, just get up and go. And of course, be prepared to hear some beautiful music performed by professional performers.
What’s one of the best things about holding these shows in Park Slope bars?
Park Slope has been Opera on Tap’s musical home for 10 years. In addition to performing at the new Freddy’s on 5th avenue, we have performed at Barbes on a bi-monthly basis for the same amount of years. In addition we have made great partnerships with the Park Slope Fifth Avenue BID and the Old Stone House, who have presented us at street fairs and in summer concert series on many occasions. We have found an amazing and loyal audience in the Slope. I wouldn’t trade them for the world!
What’s one of the most unexpected things to have ever happened at an Opera On Tap performance?
I think my favorite story still is when we performed in a courtyard in Forest Hills, Queens a few years back. An audience member went into labor while one of our performers was singing a ditty from Carousel. She wouldn’t let her husband escort her to the car until he finished the song. Apparently it was a song dear to her heart. I always thought the singer should have put her testimonial on his resume. What could be better than that?
What can we expect from the performance on Friday — and what exactly is so special about Michigan?
Well, I’m from Michigan so it goes without saying that it is a particularly special place! Also our curator for the evening, David Gordon, and our pianist (who is also a featured composer) are both Michigan natives. I’m not sure if it’s the cold weather there or what, but Michigan has certainly spawned some great creative types.
We thought it would be great to feature some with a classical bent. If you’re able to come join us Friday, expect a really great group of songs from a variety of composers both living and deceased. At Barbes we tend to focus on songs more than opera as there is an enormous repertoire and the intimate space matches the feel of song perfectly. Really what you are in store for is a really fun and casual night of great song sung by some really wonderful singers. And beers!
We’ve seen Bell’s beers making their way into a lot of local bars recently. Which piece of music would you pair with the following styles of beers in these local spots?
Hmmmmm, we’ll go with mostly opera here — not necessarily songs from the great state of Michigan…
- Two Hearted Ale at Barbes: We’ll go with a featured song this Friday: I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.
- Winter White Ale at The Owl Farm: Must the Winter Come Soon from Samuel Barber’s opera Vanessa.
- Expedition Stout at The Gate: Hm, the entire Wagner Ring Cycle? What a journey!
- Two Hearted Ale at Pork Slope: Anything from Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West. Cowboys singing in Italian are the best.
Anything else you’d like neighbors to know?
We hope to see you at one of our upcoming Brooklyn shows! We have one at least every month at a local watering hole near you. Keep track of us by visiting our website at operaontap.org/newyork.