Opera: For those unfamiliar, the word itself conveys a world enjoyed by the moneyed, those who enjoy black formalwear and small chairs upholstered in red velvet.
This is unfortunate. Especially since, thanks to LoftOpera—a two-year-old nonprofit opera company—it’s now possible to see classical opera that has the feeling of punk rock. Or even metal, says 26-year-old LoftOpera co-founder Daniel Ellis-Ferris—at least compared to the versions usually staged.
Ellis-Ferris, who studied music at The New School, wanted to introduce opera to a broader demographic, and thought it shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. Moreover, he wanted it to be a part of a Friday night out in Brooklyn. Why? Because, says Ellis-Ferris, “the music is, like, really fucking good.” Unfortunately, most people are lost to the “opera is boring and expensive” mentality before they get the chance to figure that out.
LoftOpera’s first performance in 2013 was ambitious—Mozart’s Don Giovanni–at Gowanus Loft on 9th Street. Around 100 people came. Then, someone popped it on The Skint and, by the third performance, 300 crammed into the bare loft space. Ever since, LoftOpera has sought increasingly bigger venues to accommodate a growing demand for classical opera in casual places for twenty bucks. But what that gets you is a lot more than just drama and music.
“It’s a super powerful experience and, when you’re up close to it, it’s kind of punk because it’s so loud,” Ellis-Ferris says. “The amount of sound coming out of a dramatic soprano’s body is frightening. It makes your stomach vibrate and ears hurt and it’s kind of like being at a hardcore show.” (When LoftOpera began, Ellis-Ferris was singing in a metal band.) With their proximity, singers engage with the audience throughout performances–another aspect that brings the whole room to life, rather than inducing some sort of head-nod to sleep, en-masse.
Recently, Ellis-Ferris had lunch with a singer from the Met who will be in LoftOpera’s next performance. “It was super exciting and flattering and weird,” said Ellis-Ferris of their partnership. “She was talking about how someone had mentioned [LoftOpera] at a meeting in Lincoln Center,” he recalled. Ellis-Ferris was shocked. She told him to keep his cool. “Don’t pretend that people don’t know who you are,” she purportedly responded.
So, weary opera goers, take note. The operatic sea change is not impending, it’s here. If you’re into loud music and edgy performance in weird spaces (that’s most of you, right?), this just may be your ticket.
Later this month, on August 28 and 29, LoftOpera will stage Mahler and Berlioz at The Muse Brooklyn, a circus school in Bushwick (If that doesn’t lighten up opera, nothing can). On September 25 and 26, they’ll perform selections from Verdi. Tickets are $20 and on sale now.