Opera? At the Burren?

opera on tapOpera on Tap mezzo-soprano Carrie Reid-Knox performs "Taylor the Latte Boy" in the Burren Backroom. Photos by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

When you think live music at the Burren, you’re probably thinking folk, Ameriana and (of course) traditional Irish tunes—and with good reason, as the bar hosts some of the best in the city. You’re probably not thinking opera, though as it turns out, it’s actually not too uncommon! Each month, Opera on Tap comes to the Burren Backroom and invites listeners to take in a few hours of arias.

Why bring opera out of the concert hall and into the bar? We asked Opera on Tap co-manager Abigail Krawson to tell us.

Scout Somerville: So, full disclosure, I first heard about Opera on Tap after a friend of mine told me he went on a date at the Burren, and all of the sudden there was opera. He was like, “You’re never going to believe this, but…” I bet that happens to you a lot.

Abigail Krawson: [Laughs] Definitely. It sort of depends on which venue we’re at, but I’d definitely say people are most surprised at the Burren, especially because they’re known more for folk music and Irish music. No one’s surprised that there’s music there, they’re more like, “Opera? At my dive bar?”

SS: How did this series get kicked off?

AK: Opera on Tap was actually started in New York by our head honcho, Anne Hiatt. It was her idea to give herself some more performing opportunities, but in a less structured, formal, more low-pressure situation. She found a bar in New York that was like, “Oh, you wanna sing opera? No problem.”

New York is obviously a pretty opera-heavy city, but as she was talking to other friends here and there throughout the country, other branches started forming. It’s the 11th anniversary this year, and it’s picked up quite a bit. And one of my best friends actually started the first international chapter in Berlin two years ago. It’s really, really picked up speed.

SS: So the goal was really just to have more opportunities to showcase your craft?

AK: Well, the idea was that this was a way to make opera more accessible—to make it more fun, more approachable, less stuffy. Opera has some preconceived notions that I think go with it. Her mission was self-fulfilling in that she’d get to perform and have these extra chances to sing, but also to help the art form by offering it in a more convenient and a more relaxed atmosphere, so we might catch people who aren’t necessarily opera-goers, who’d be like, “Oh, well, that wasn’t bad. Maybe I would go see an opera. Or maybe I’d at least go to another one of these.”

There’s four of us who run the Boston chapter, and we’re all women, and we all love it. We do it for the same reasons that it was started: a chance to perform, to make opera more accessible and, really, to have fun. We get to sing opera with our friends, we get to drink beer while we do it—it’s a pretty good gig.

opera on tap

Opera On Tap soprano Laura Ethington performs in the Burren Backroom.

SS: What can people expect in an Opera on Tap performance?

AK: What we usually do is we pick a theme. We don’t do a whole opera—I call it cabaret style. You have selections from this opera, selections from that opera. So one we recently did at the Burren was “Nasty Women of Opera.”

But we also do musical theater, and sometimes we do jazz. We’re not solely stuck in opera-land. We have anywhere from four to six singers at every gig, and we try to have a nice mix of soprano, mezzo, tenor, bass, baritone.

SS: Any last words for those who remain unconvinced that they might actually enjoy an hour or two of opera?

AK: I guess I’d say, it doesn’t cost any money, so you can go out and drink a beer with your friends on a Saturday afternoon and do it while experiencing something you’ve never heard of before and you’re not familiar with. We want to make you feel like you’re part of the show, like you’re just hanging out with us backstage and we happen to be singing opera. People think opera costs a lot of money, and most of the shows we do are free or minimal cost. It’s opera by the people for the people, so to speak.

And you know, I think sometimes people are surprised that young people sing opera. We did this campaign one time where we were like, “We’re among you.” Opera singers are everywhere—we just served you your chai latte at Starbucks. We’re the receptionist at your dental office. We babysit your children. We’re not weird creatures of the night. We’re normal people, and we want to invite you to the show so that you can get to know us and get to know opera, which is not this hoity-toity, unapproachable thing.

Opera on Tap is taking a break at the Burren this summer, but they’ll be back this fall with “The Nasty Women of Opera,” “Opera on Tap Oktoberfest” and their annual Halloween show. In the meantime, catch a free outdoor performance in Boston’s Worcester Square on Thursday, July 20 at 7 p.m.

This Q&A appears in the July/August print issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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