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Opera Gets Out Of The House

The Philadelphia Singers

So you thought you could escape from opera by simply staying out of the opera house? Not any more. The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns takes a tour of opera performed in barrooms, the Philly Fringe Festival, and at concerts by The Philadelphia Singers.


David Patrick Stearns: The definition of opera hasn’t really changed in some 400 years. But the way it behaves, and what it looks like,  just keeps morphing. Is it possible to have characters, plot, and inner dialogue all sung by a chorus? It is in The Radio Hour, a one-act opera by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer about a suicidal woman who comes home at night and discovers that her radio is talking back to her, and sounding like her therapist.


Sean Curran: If there's music and narrative and people behaving, I guess it's an opera, right.


DPS: That’s Sean Curran, a choreographer who stage directed The Radio Hour for The Philadelphia Singers. These operatic renegades often don’t require Met-sized budgets. Even as produced in the waning final season of The Philadelphia Singers, The Radio Hour won't leave any posthumous debt, says music director David Hayes.


David Hayes: We had the funding for all of this. Nobody is freaking out, but it's not, kind of the sense that the fiscal health of the organization, it would teeter us on the edge. It's happening.


DPS: Opera Philadelphia is in this fall’s Philly Fringe Festival with Andy: A Popera, about Andy Warhol, developed by the cabaret group The Bearded Ladies. But the granddaddy of this movement is The Face on the Barroom Floor, a 1981 Pucciniesque one act by Henry Mollicone that’s mostly performed in alternative spaces such as…barrooms.


Mixing in opera takes the ritual out of classical music. One ulterior motive among the authors of The Radio Hour was to get choruses out of the usual stand-and-sing format. Director Curran even had the protagonist played, not by a silent actress, as intended by the authors, but something more kinetic, a dancer. And why not? Nobody really expects opera to make sense.


SC: But you know, because I'm approaching it with this dream logic, something like that makes sense.


DPS: Operatic elements will creep into Bach's St. Matthew Passion in semi-staged performances by The Philadelphia Orchestra. Why can’t we just let opera be opera, and choral music be choral music? There will always be a place for traditional presentations. But aren't these hybrids so much more fun?