The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 16, 2020 1:00 am

Group out to change how opera perceived

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette


If you see that word and your mind conjures up ideas of a long, loud and tiring experience in a stuffy performance hall while buttoned up in uncomfortable formal wear, there's something new coming to town that might change your mind.

The local chapter of Opera on Tap will have its first show at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Hop River Brewing Co., 1515 N. Harrison St.

This is the first Indiana chapter of Opera on Tap, an international organization whose goal is to make the genre more accessible. On its website, the group lists 29 chapters in the U.S. and Germany.

“Opera unfortunately has this reputation of being a little bit upper-crust hoity-toity, and Opera on Tap helps to kind of shatter that by bringing us into a very casual setting like a bar where you'll find singers who are literally taking sips of beer then continuing to sing right in the middle of the song,” says Elaina Robbins, the local chapter's co-managing diva. Yes, that's her real title with the organization, but you can call her a founder of the local chapter, too.

Each free show lasts about 90 minutes and usually take place in a bar setting. Children are welcome at Hop River, and the show is family-friendly. There will be a show each month, possibly rotating around to various local bars, and each month has a theme. This month's is “let's drink” featuring operatic drinking songs. February's date and location have not been set, but updates can be found at

Robbins says the shows are casual, goofy fun with the audience getting involved with sing-alongs. The audience isn't locked into watching the whole show – people can come and go as they please.

In some ways, it's a throwback.

“When opera was in its heyday in Europe several hundred years ago, audiences were rowdy,” Robbins says. “They would go in and shout and demand encores if they liked something. If they didn't like something, they would shout and throw things. There was constantly noise and talking happening during performances. It was a form of socialization.”

Though this isn't the sort of performance your mind might have conjured up at the start of this story, one cliche staple does exist at Opera on Tap shows: the Viking helmet. It is worn by the night's emcee and passed at intermission for donations. Money collected is used to pay performers and chapter dues.

Singers involved in the local chapter must have an undergraduate degree in vocal performance to participate, and the goal is to have about eight performers per show. Most will be from the area, giving local singers with a background in opera a place to show their skills.

“Part of Opera on Tap's mission is to provide performance opportunities for the thousands of singers who have studied opera and maybe necessarily don't have the opportunity to sing it every day,” Robbins says.

She first got involved with Opera on Tap around 2012 at the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti chapter in Michigan, where she got a master's degree in vocal performance from the University of Michigan. She moved to Fort Wayne several years ago and is glad to be getting a chapter started here.

“It's just a lot of fun, very casual and a great way to experience something that maybe you've never experienced live before,” she says.

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