Opera on Tap at the Blue Moon: Bringing Arias to the U-District’s Oldest Dive Bar
Ah, the Blue Moon. For 78 years, this quintessential dive bar just off I-5 has served University District patrons with pride. Its worn and well-loved walls are adorned with a myriad of pennants, beer signs, and miscellaneous kitsch. The cozy wooden booths are covered with decades’ worth of etched graffiti. At the bar, grizzled regulars sit shoulder-to-shoulder with hipsters and undergrads.
For Opera on Tap, the Blue Moon’s seedy charm and rich history are what makes this dive their favorite performance spot. Over the past year, this vivacious group of professional opera singers has brought classical music to unlikely venues around Seattle. In recent months, Opera on Tap performances have graced In The Red Wine Bar, Conor Byrne Pub, and the Columbia City Theater. On Monday night, the group made their triumphant return to the Blue Moon. This time, they were joined on stage by musicians from the Parnassus Project, a group devoted to bringing chamber music to cafes, bars, and other local gathering places.
The Blue Moon’s tiny stage was packed full of musicians, music stands, and instruments galore. Violin, viola, and cello were joined by flute, keyboard, guitar, and — most striking of all — a harp. “You really need to see this to believe it,” crowed the Blue Moon’s Twitter feed. An eager audience packed the pub, perching on the pool table when tables and booths were full. The crowd was an amusing blend of typical opera house patrons and typical dive bar patrons. They were joined by a healthy cross-section of the University District neighborhood — hipsters, students, friends of the musicians, and curious onlookers.
The singers took turns performing solo pieces for the crowd, each half of the concert concluding with a rousing “all-sing” number. These are typically beloved opera arias by popular composers like Verdi or Puccini. At previous Opera on Tap performances, the singers were accompanied by a pianist. Thanks to the musicians of the Parnassus Project, last night’s concert was the first to feature a variety of instrumental accompaniment. A Handel aria was enhanced by a mini chamber orchestra of violin, viola, cello, flute, and keyboard (on harpsichord setting). Harp provided a perfect accompaniment to art songs by Debussy and Faure.
The program featured diverse fare that spanned the history of Western classical music, including everything from favorite Italian opera arias to French art songs to German lieder. It was an enjoyable opportunity to hear lesser-known works by popular composers, like an art song by Rachmaninoff with a bit of a gypsy flair. Equally fun were familiar arias from classic operas like La Bohème, Carmen, and Rigoletto. The musicians of the Parnassus Project presented a couple of instrumental interludes of their own, including Massenet’s Méditation from Thaïs and an excerpt from Bizet’s Carmen Suite.
Soprano Megan Chenovick, one of the Opera on Tap “managing divas”, acted as MC for the event, keeping the atmosphere festive and lively with fun facts about the performers and repertoire. During intermission, the beer and conversation flowed, but the crowd maintained a respectful silence while the performers were singing. This wasn’t out of protocol, habit, or etiquette, but simply because the performances were absolutely riveting. It’s quite a compelling experience to sit just a few feet away from a professional tenor as he’s singing an aria from Tosca.
Opera on Tap is lots of fun for die-hard opera fans and opera newbies alike, especially those who are hesitant about the cost and time commitment of a full-length opera production. The casual and convivial atmosphere makes these Opera on Tap events the perfect entertainment for an evening of drinks with friends.
Don’t despair if you missed this chance to experience dive bar opera. Next month, Opera on Top celebrates their first anniversary with the Opera on Tap Pub Crawl, a three-night marathon of performances at the group’s favorite venues. The singers will start at In The Red Wine Bar on September 21, head to Conor Byrne Pub on September 22, and finish the festivities with a grand finale at the Blue Moon on September 23. Keep an eye on their website for more details.