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Classical Music for the Masses

February 27, 2012

We're getting beyond treating classical music performances in more causal settings like bars, art galleries, bookstores and dance clubs as if they were bold and exciting new phenomena.

These types of performances are so run of the mill in San Francisco these days that the "gee golly gosh" factor is thankfully becoming a thing of the past.

This is a good thing, as it means that music that many think of as having a high barrier to entry is now attracting broader audiences from many different walks of life.

This fact was very much in evidence on Saturday night at Cafe Royale, where the latest performance by the San Francisco chapter of Opera on Tap, a loose national collective of opera singers who sing arias from the standard repertoire in bars, was unfolding before a packed house of appreciative, wine- and beer-swilling people.

The audience was pretty diverse. I had a plum spot on the new moon-shaped, red velvet couch in the center of the space. To my right sat a white, middle-aged couple with a small terrier named Eli between them. To my left were a couple of young Asian kids called Frances and Henry. Behind me a trio of guys with pints sat, looking like a bunch of mechanics on their lunch break with pints and paunches.

Operating in a similar vein to Classical Revolution (the amazing, San Francisco-founded organization that plays chamber music before busy crowds in bars and other low-key venues) Opera on Tap's mission is to bring opera to more people. I think the San Francisco chapter is fulfilling this mission with aplomb.

Its true that some of the singers' voices weren't fantastic and the string quartet that provided the accompaniment was clearly sight-reading its way through challengingly condensed versions of the full orchestral scores to warhorses like Carmen, The Marriage of Figaro, Lakme and Ariodante.

But many of the arias were beautifully sung and on balance the imperfections hardly mattered.

Let's just say that it was simply thrilling to hear the "Habanera" from Carmen sung at such close range and with such commitment. Not even the best seats at the opera house get you this close to the music.


  • The Royale was so packed I didn't even bother going inside. There was no room left at all. Next time I'm going to get there much earlier. Perhaps it's time for them to move it to a larger bar.

    By Blogger John Marcher, At March 1, 2012 at 11:15 AM  

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