Opera is fun and in your face in Washington, D.C. lately. “Ladies’ Night” last week at Black Fox Lounge in Dupont Circle was the fourth performance of the newly founded D.C. chapter of national non-profit Opera on Tap, an organization vowing to take the frou-frou out of opera, a traditionally elitist art form.
Black Fox Lounge is a great venue for Opera on Tap. Scrumptious, but down to earth food paired with drinks from the bar made the audience (wearing everything from blue jeans to sparkly dresses) “lounging in my living room” comfortable.
The six talented ladies, Mary-Ellen Brennan, soprano; Amy Broadbent, soprano; Mandy Brown, soprano; Annie Gill, soprano; Erica Convery, mezzo-soprano; and Elizabeth Mondragon-Groff, mezzo-soprano, performed operatic classics (with a few musical theatre pieces thrown in) with excellent pianist Joel Ayau to a full audience.
Despite performances relatively on the safe side, several singers shined: Elizabeth Mondragon-Groff’s even, warm, and shimmering mezzo stood out the most. Her “Habanera” put the show to a solid start, and her “Una voce poca fa” was clear and riveting. Mondragon-Groff’s rendition of “If I Loved You” was startlingly beautiful and perfectly positioned in the program – this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic is deceptively hard and Mondragon-Groff performed it effortlessly.
Mandy Brown was also consistently impressive, singing a hilarious and charming version of Strauss’ “Spiel’ Ich die Unschuld vom Lande.” Her selection from Barber’s song cycle “Hermit Songs” was lovely.
Amy Broadbent sang an intriguing set of Craigslist ads set to music by Gabriel Kahane (acclaimed soprano Audra McDonald performed these pieces – entitled “Craigslistlieder” – on Live From Lincoln Center). Broadbent, whose voice lends itself well to Mozart, also sang a nice “Ach, ich fühl’s” earlier in the program.
Overall, I felt more dramatic risks could have been taken. There were times when the performances felt on a whim and more like watching singers practice their audition arias than revitalize classical music. Opera on Tap makes opera casual, but it shouldn’t approach its mission casually. Americans aren’t jumping to hear opera.
Across the board stellar vocals and committed performances made up for any flaws in programming and interpretation. The crew at Opera on Tap is doing something that matters in various bars throughout the D.C. Metro area. Don’t miss their next show – you’re guaranteed an easy, fun, and unique evening. Leave the ball gowns hanging in the closet.
Opera on Tap has 2 performances in May (May 5 and 19) at Bocce Bar & Tavern, 1212 H Street NE, Washington, DC