Opera is intimidating. But it doesn't have to be. Not if you're at a LoftOpera show. These shows don't come with black tie dress codes, and it's okay if you drink a beer. LoftOpera has set out to redefine the traditional opera model and bring the classic medium to those of us who may never have the chance or desire to step inside the Met Opera House. We caught up with Melanie Milton and Daniel Ellis-Ferris during rehearsals to figure out what we can expect for their upcoming shows at 501 Union.
Tell us about the piece that you’ll be performing.
Daniel: It’s the classic Roman tale of the Rape of Lucretia. She commits suicide and requests that her body be put on display. So it’s a story about violence against women and their bodies and about class, status, and gender.
Melanie: In the past we have not done a lot of English opera, so we wanted to diversify our repertoire for this season. Typically we’re doing operas in Italian. Also it features a male and female chorus who sing the internal monologues of the main characters as well as narrating quite a bit of the plot. It's the idea of a Greek Chorus in an opera setting, which is a new platform for the company to explore.
D: And the chamber orchestra as well. Typically we're working with an orchestra of 30-50 musicians so to scale it down and use a chamber group has been a more intimate experience.
The idea behind LoftOpera is to make opera more accessible for people who wouldn’t typically attend such a grand show. What can people who have never experienced opera at all expect?
D: It’s not going to be a red velvet seat event. However it will give you access to the operatic voice that you probably wouldn’t get many other places. The idea is to make it an event that my friends or I would go to anyway, and opera just happens to be there.
M: Our audiences tend to pull from a much younger demographic than what you’d find at a traditional opera house like the Met. A lot of our audience base has never been to an opera before, or they have some interest in classical music but it’s not necessarily their forte. It very much feels like a party. We open the doors an hour before the show, we serve beer, we play house music. We have a long intermission, then we stay around and party afterward.
Are there any early memories of attending opera?
M: Not necessarily attending, but I started performing when I was really young, just in an opera company of the town I’m from. I started when I was 13. We’re both vocalists so we both continued studying and performing, and then Loft Opera came to be in 2013.
You were previously over in the Green Building last year for Il Barbiere di Siviglia. How do you normally choose your spaces or what type of spaces work well?
D: We aren’t an opera company with its own house. That gives us an opportunity to pair venues with the repertoire, which is really interesting. 501 Union works really well for this opera in particular not only because of the voyeuristic themes of it with the glass division in the space, but also because the style of the space feels correct for this show. Whereas for the Green Building, it really made sense to have a big wedding at the end of the opera in that space.
M: And all the performance venues we find are very nontraditional for the opera medium. If it’s not like this beautifully designed building we’re currently in, then it’s a warehouse that doesn’t normally perform arts pieces.
D: It may not even have the proper build out, and we have to get permits to even do what we want in it.
M: 501 Union is one of the more finished spaces we’ve performed in. The Green Building tends to be more of the effect we’ve performed in the past.
D: Like the post-industrial rustic look.
How do you incorporate the unique spaces with your performances? Which comes first, venue or repertoire?
D: So far it’s been we choose the repertoire first and then find a venue that feels right for it.