Rob Gebelhoff

Opera Performed in a Bar?

Skylight’s stars comes to The Hotel Foster to sing and chat and maybe even drink.

By - Feb 6th, 2014 09:46 am
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

Hanging out at bar doesn’t usually involve a deep discussion about the difference between music theater and opera, but the Skylight Music Theatre is about to revise that assumption.

Viswa Subbaraman, photo courtesy of Skylight Music Theatre

Viswa Subbaraman, photo courtesy of Skylight Music Theatre

The company’s artistic director, Viswa Subbaraman, will host the Skylight’s fourth “Opera 101” this week, a part-lesson, part-performance session aimed to introduce opera to “virgins” of the art form.

“I think there’s a general fear of opera,” Subbaraman says. “It’s supposed to be elitist and stuffy. But what I’ve realized is opera is not scary. It’s just another way to tell a story.”

The event, held at The Hotel Foster, 2028 E North Ave, is entitled “Opera or Musical Theater? You Decide.” The music to be performed depends upon how the discussion develops, but it’s likely to include  a range of pieces — from musical theater to traditional opera — about which Subbaraman will discuss the differences.

Local musicians who will take part in the session all have connections with Skylight productions. Doug Clemons appeared in the company’s production of Hair; Shawn Holmes appeared in Les Misérables; Erin Sura and Colleen Brooks performed in Fidelio; and Kristen DiNinno will perform in the upcoming production of Phillip Glass’ Hydrogen Jukebox.

Most of the performers are new to Opera 101, as this is the first such event for the company. Subbaraman, however, is very familiar with this approach, having organized similar sessions for seven years while working at Opera Vista in Houston. Now in his first season as the Skylight’s artistic director, he wanted to try this format in Milwaukee.

“We’re trying to make opera fun, especially for young professionals,” Subbaraman says. “You have a drink, we tell jokes, we do improvisational stuff — we think outside the box to include the audience.”

In previous Opera 101 sessions, Subbaraman led the audience in sing-a-longs and took turns teaching people how to conduct. The idea is to take a more interactive, laid-back approach to opera, which he says might break down the wall that blocks the art form from truly being appreciated.

Interestingly, Subbaraman started off as one of those people behind that wall. “The first few operas I saw I hated,” he says. “And I ended up becoming an opera conductor.”

Subbaraman slowly developed a love for opera while studying abroad in Vienna as a sophomore at Duke University. This was the first

Opera 101, which is held at The Hotel Foster, features drinks, jokes and a range of opera performances. Photo courtesy of Skylight Music Theatre.

Opera 101, which is held at The Hotel Foster, features drinks, jokes and a range of opera performances. Photo courtesy of Skylight Music Theatre.

time he ever saw a professional orchestra, and he was forced to see 15 operas. “The first three I sat through, I just thought, ‘My God, is this thing ever going to end?’” he recalls. “But when you pick up how plot is portrayed and how the music functions with the theater, you begin to understand what they are doing.”

Subbaraman compared it to going to an art museum. While there are beautiful impressionist works on display that are easy to understand, a Picasso or Mondrian painting that requires more time and effort to understand can end up being more rewarding.

“I think we limit ourselves because of the stereotypes we have of opera,” he says. “Our goal with Opera 101 is to provide an atmosphere that is not stuffy, where you can grab a beer and interact with me. I love this art form, and I think it’s easily transportable.”

Opera 101 will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6. The event is primarily for people who are 21 or older, although Subbaraman said younger people can join without drinking. The event is free. For more information, visit the Skylight’s website.

Other events coming up:

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Chamber Series


Francesco Lecce-Chong. MSO photo.

If audiences want to see the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra for a fraction of the price, this week is the perfect opportunity.

The MSO will take on the second of three performances in its “Chamber Series,” aimed at bringing the company to different places around the city. This week the MSO is taking the stage at UW-Milwaukee’s Helene Zelazo Center.

Associate conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong will lead the performance, which he said will be an examination of the traditional form of the concerti that was developed in the Baroque age and revisited by artists in the early to mid-20th century. The event will feature Alberto Ginastera’s 1953 masterpiece, Variaciones Concertantes.

“I’ve wanted to program this piece forever,” Lecce-Chong says. “It’s one of my favorites. It’s a brilliant work that requires an incredible virtuosity from the orchestra because most of the principle players have extended solos. It really demands the most effort individually.”

For this reason, some of the MSO’s best first-season musicians will take the stage at the event, including flutist Sonora Slocum, piccoloist Jennifer Bouton Schaub and oboist Katherine Young Steele.

The concert will also include three Baroque concerti — Bach’s Suite No. 2 in B Minor, Vivaldi’s Concerto in C Major and Handel’s Concerto in G Major — as well as the widely popular “Dumbarton Oaks (Concerto in E-flat Major)” by Igor Stravinsky.

“This will completely change the way people perceive the symphony because there will be no main soloist,” Lecce-Chong says. “It’s a way for us to really show off some of our greatest players.”

Concerts are at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7 and Sunday, Feb. 8. Tickets are $5, but seating is limited. Doors will open approximately 45 minutes before the concert. For more information, visit the MSO’s website.

Rhythmic Revolution by the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra

Jazz will dominate the Milwaukee Youth Art Center as students of the Milwaukee Symphony Youth Orchestra take on this week’s “Rhythmic Revolution” concert.

The performance will feature selected MYSO jazz combos including the Bronzeville Jazz Ensemble as well as the Calypso and Soca steel bands.

Saturday, Feb. 8, at 8 p.m.. For more information, visit the MYSO’s website.

0 thoughts on “Classical: Opera Performed in a Bar?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Opera 101 sounds so interesting (I love opera)! Would that I were free on Thursday evenings! Thanks for letting us know about this!

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us