In the May 2008 issue of Country Roads magazine (link)
Heading down to New Orleans for Opera on Tap posed a number of obstacles, not the least of which was finding the place. I was told that it’s host site, the Rusty Nail was the old Mermaid Lounge, and I figured I could find that on auto-pilot, considering the number of shows I’d seen in that dingy hall over the years.
The Rusty Nail is radically different. While Mermaid took advantage of its remote location to split eardrums into the wee hours, there was a sign behind the bar at the Rusty Nail that said “Band cannot be loud or you will not be booked again.” An older woman was seated at the bar, trying to get her martini just right, finally acquiring the bottle of olive juice to decant out the precise level of dirt. They served chicken quesadillas, and the place was smoke free, for at least this evening anyway.
But this displacement of time and place was the least of my hurdles; opera itself posed a much larger quandary. Opera is touted as being the intersection of many arts, where the finest of music and theatre and dance all converge. But to me, it’s always seemed a lot like a blockbuster movie—a lot of money and time put toward something I found only moderately entertaining. Opera has always struck me as something its audience used as a badge of status; a reason to get the fur out of cold storage and to thrown on a tux. I know this bias has more to do with me than it does opera itself, and I was hoping this event would turn me around.
The room started to fill up about twenty minutes before the show began. Nervous singers scurried around, moving the piano, setting out props. The young singers from Loyola were charmingly caught up in a maelstrom of nervousness and ego as the room reached its density. Kenneth Papp, an opera buff and regular at Opera on Tap gave me the lowdown. “I like it because it’s an informal place to meet up with other opera fans,” he said. “When you go to the opera, it’s where little old ladies break out the furs. The whole place smells like mothballs. Here you get to relax, have a drink and enjoy the singers.” I told him my trepidations about the art form, that I didn’t really get opera and he smiled, “Maybe you will in this setting.”
The singers took to the stage with little fanfare and launched into the first section, the “Papageno/Papagena” duet from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Casey Candebat donned a feathered Mardi Gras mask, Sheila McDermott a shawl and proceeded to fill the air with glorious sound. Jayme Hogan-Yarbro later in the program delivered a powerful aria from Franz Lehár’s Paganini that literally shook the walls of the room. It was rather awe-inspiring to hear a voice that poised and powerful close up like that, feeling its physical impact.