The overpowering idea of “Art” will kill art every time. The biggest barrier to most people’s appreciation of opera is that it’s opera. It’s way too formal and dense. You sit down and dive into some big, impenetrable thing with lots of moving pieces which probably wouldn’t even be in English even if you could under stand them. Relax: Opera On Tap-Wisconsin is hoping to demystify opera. You don’t have to go to some huge performing arts space. You can go to a bar or a coffee shop or something. Sit down. Have a drink. Listen to some opera. It’s no big deal. Granted: someone probably IS going to die, but it’s not a matter of life and death. It’s only music, passion and emotion in a cozy space.
Born in New York, Opera On Tap has a number of chapters that have popped-up all over the country. This week Opera On Tap-Wisconsin brings the lofty art of high-class narrative vocals to intimate spaces. It’s a fun, informal encounter with tenors, sopranos and tragedy amidst drinks and light conversation. Anodyne’s space on Bruce Street serves as an excellent location.
The air at Anodyne is infused with the rich aroma of coffee with just a hint of several classy beers on tap. This week Small Stage opera comes to hardwood floors and cream city brick courtesy of Passion in Pigskin—a romantic American football opera.
The show, which runs for two performances, opened last night. There are two 45-minute halves separated by an intermission. The first half is a “crazy love”-themed gig set. Songs from opera, musical and more are gentle introduction to the evening hosted by Opera On Tap Wisconsin Co-Founder and talented vocalist Julianne Perkins. Women sing songs of crazy love with operatic passion accompanied by Elizabeth Biermann on keyboard. Delicate emotion cascades through a spacious space of brick and board. No artificial amplification here. There’s a warm, acoustic embrace of simple sound rushing through all the open space. There’s a love of love pouring out in striking operatic clarity. The casual informality of the evening allows every singer her own distinct personality. Every one gives her own distinctive voice to the early evening before the space is handed over to the charming hands of Michael Lydon and Ellen Mandel who are in town from New York for the show.
Lydon and Mandel’s jazzy moods and dazzlingly simple melodies serve simple, universal themes which lead-in to the 45-minute opera composed by Lydon and Mandel. The two close-out the first half and ease things into intermission.
The show returns from break with Passion In Pigskin: a primal and viscerally minimalist love triangle between two pro football linemen and a cheerleader. Costuming is simple. The set consists of a couch and a few odd elements here and there. Austin Bare and David Guzman play Billy and Eddie--two linemen dating two cheerleaders. Dana Vetter is sweet as Eddie’s girlfriend Mary Jo. She’s shy around him. Vetter’s good with delicate characterization, but she’s given a chance to be more direct in expressing herself with fellow cheerleader Betty. Erin Sura plays Billy’s girlfriend Betty with playful aggression that serves as a nice contrast to the love triangle at the center of the drama.
Eddie loves football. Billy love Mary Jo. Billy gets injured. Eddie suggests that she take care Billy to help him through the injury. Things get complicated.
Of course...since this is a drama between three people, it doesn’t get as complicated as opera often does. And with only a 45 -minute lifespan, the plot has to be very aggressive to get where it’s going. And where it’s going is very operatic. This may be the story of two mere lineman and the woman they both love, but the conflict quickly escalates and elevates two normal guys into gods at each other’s throats. Very intense stuff. Director Josh Perkins (who also plays the head coach in the show) points the momentum in the right direction and lets the intensity of the drama do its thing.
There is one more performance of Passion in Pigskin with Opera On Tap-Wisconsin. Tonight’s (Oct. 12th) show starts at 7:30 pm at Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company on 224. W. Bruce St. For more information, visit the show’s page on Facebook.