The poet W.H. Auden once said ‘No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible’. Very true. Another thing people don’t do when they are feeling sensible is spend an evening in the pub. Combine the two and you could be onto something. Boutique opera company Opera Bites is capitalising on this with its ‘Opera in the Pub’ series, launched in March.
Yes, hearing opera in the pub may seem like an utterly outlandish experience when you compare it to today’s tradition of visiting a plush concert hall in elegant attire to hear the latest Figaro. But if you consider the debauched plots of the world’s most popular operas — involving murder, incest, prostitution, alcoholism, unfaithful lovers, cross-dressing, sexually provocative nuns — it doesn’t seem inapposite at all. In fact, it’s quite fitting.
A group of dedicated and experienced singers (most of them have studied at specialist music institutions and perform extensively at a national level), Opera Bites present miniature operas or entertaining programs of popular arias outside the concert hall regularly.
Most recently (on 26 August) they treated us to a programme of popular arias at The Roxbury in Glebe. Delibes’ ‘Flower Duet’ from Lakmé; Bellini’s ‘Casta Diva’ from Norma; Bizet’s ‘Habanera’ and ‘Toreador’ from Carmen – they were all there. Baritone David Hidden’s audacious ‘Toreador’ was a particular highlight, as was mezzo-soprano Keara Donohoe’s moving performance of ‘Dido’s Lament’ from Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas. Pianist Zsuzsa Giczy deserves a special mention for accompanying the singers so faithfully on a portable Roland keyboard.
The only drawback to experiencing these masterpieces in a pub is that noise levels are beyond the performers’ control. On the night we were there, Opera Bites had to share The Roxbury with hoards of noisy students and some rowdy hecklers who didn’t have the same appreciation for opera as the paying guests.
It didn’t dampen the performers’ spirits, though, and only some audience members seemed perturbed. A brilliantly entertaining showcase of popular opera, the evening ended fittingly with an uproarious performance of the ‘Champagne Chorus’ (sung in English) from Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. Bravo!
Rosie Pentreath is a freelance arts journalist who moved from the UK to Sydney in April 2015, just to shake things up a bit. Formerly Digital Editor & Staff Writer at BBC Music Magazine, she has bylines in BBC Music Magazine, Homes & Antiques magazine and The Debrief, to name a few. When she’s not writing, she’s most happy running around with a Pentax MV1 SLR camera or discovering as much new music as she can. Rosie tweets at @RosiePentreath.
Find out about more cultural events taking place this spring in The Plus Ones Magazine, below.