I can almost hear the cue for the theme song to “Cheers” as I walk into my neighborhood dive bar. Where the guys all call me Tosca (despite my mezzo-ness) and continue to ask me when I am going to sing some arias (pronounced “air-ee-uhs”) for them. As usual, I politely decline and sidle over to the Golden Tee machine or the pool table.
However, there are groups all over the country that aren’t declining the invitation. In fact, they are celebrating opera in unusual spots in their neighborhoods time and again. Opera on Tap started their crusade in 2005 looking for an opera “gig” in the vein of the New York rock or jazz gig to provide more performance opportunities for themselves and their friends. Truly, what is better than combining booze and opera singers? Opera on Tap’s mission “as a not- for-profit 501(c)3 company, is to promote opera as a viable, living and progressive art form deserving a place on the American cultural landscape.” While many opera houses perform educational outreach focused on children, Opera on Tap has an exciting drive to provide outreach for adults. In my opinion, this continuing outreach is sorely lacking in many areas. Developing a long-term love and connection to opera as an art form is a fundamental key to cultivating future audiences. To light a fire in your belly, I invited Joan Estep to introduce herself and Opera on Tap – Atlanta. Who knows? Your city might be the next Opera on Tap hotbed!
Pour Me an Nice Tall… Coloratura?
– Joan Estep of Opera on Tap – Atlanta
I remember the first time I heard about Opera On Tap. I was in my apartment flipping through channels and I heard opera playing. The video had images of men and women singing arias that I recognized, with one major difference: this mini-opera recital was taking place in a bar. Everyone was in their jeans and t-shirts and having a blast. I was immediately intrigued and found out that this was a new organization called Opera On Tap. My first thought was “I wish that we had one of these organizations in Atlanta!” Three years later, I am the “Managing Diva” of Opera On Tap, Atlanta! Through being a Managing Diva, I am learning how exciting it is to discover a new audience of opera lovers in the unlikeliest of places.
If you have never heard of Opera On Tap, I’ll break it down for you. Opera On Tap, or as it is lovingly referred to as OOT, takes opera away from its elitist surroundings and brings it to a neighborhood watering hole, the dingier the better. We pick a theme for the singers, get a pianist and a compile a program of volunteer singers, and put on a mini-opera recital for whoever happens to be sitting at the bar. The atmosphere is fantastically different from what opera singers and patrons are used to, and this can be a bit of a shock to them at first. When I tell singers that our performance is going to be in a bar and not a fancy restaurant, I am met with one of two reactions, excitement or disgust. Some singers and opera-lovers appreciate the idea of taking opera out of the concert halls and into the bars and see it as groundbreaking and exciting. Others think that it is crass and don’t really want to be a part of it if they aren’t getting paid. When I am met with this second reaction, I usually respond, “I know and that is what makes it more fun. We already love opera, so why not share it with people who might never give it a chance?”
Opera On Tap relies heavily on social media and word of mouth to spread news about our events, which can be a harrowing experience when my colleagues and I are trying to figure out how many people there are going to be performing, but we always manage to have a great list of singers. OOT-Atlanta was even featured on Groupon for their new non-profit fundraising campaign called the G-Team, which helped expose OOT to even more people in Atlanta who might have never heard about us. The fact that national organizations, such as Groupon, are taking interest in little non-profit organizations like ours shows that there is a growing interest in opera and that it is finding its place on the American musical landscape.
The main reason that I love OOT is because I have had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people through organizing these events. The opera community is very small, and it can be very difficult for singers to have consistent opportunities to perform after they have completed their education. A major function of OOT for the performers is that it is a reminder to all of us why we love singing. At Opera On Tap, there are no casting agents or judges with scoring sheets. In their place is a new and eager audience that is excited to hear live opera for the very first time. There is nothing like singing an aria with a beer in one hand and gazing out into a crowd hazy from their drinks and watching them start to realize that something very special and unique is going on in front of them. Through our continued community musical outreach with OOT, we are spreading our love of opera to this new audience.
From the reactions I see, the accolades I hear, and the artistic relationships that have formed out of our events,
I have to say that a bar is as good a place as any for a love of opera to start to grow.
Joan Estep, soprano, is currently a senior a Georgia State University finishing her BM in Voice Performance with a minor in Sociology. She frequently performs with the regional opera company Peach State Opera, where she has been seen as Zerbina in their production of “La Serva Padrona” and as Gilda, Fiordiligi, Susanna, Frasquita, and Adele in their touring opera scenes program. She has performed various roles with Georgia State Opera including Singer #1 in Conrad Susa‘s “Transformations”, La Fée in “Cendrillon”, and Anna Bolena in “Anna Bolena”. She has also performed The Governess in “The Turn of the Scew” with the Harrower Opera Workshop. She also sings with the nationally acclaimed Atlanta Opera chorus under the direction of Walter Huff, is a staff singer at the beautiful All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Downtown Atlanta, and currently maintains a private voice studio in Metro Atlanta.