On the first Tuesday of every month, there’s opera at the Sidetrack in Ypsilanti. Yup–opera–in a bar. Highbrow meets Loewenbraeu. Granted, the Sidetrack’s event space, where Opera on Tap reigns, is not a bar (that’s in the next room), so it’s quiet and elegant enough. Still, you won’t confuse it with the Met. No plush seats, no black-tied, evening gown-dressed ushers and patrons. Just tables and chairs, terrific burgers, beer and wine, casual clothed clientele, and servers sporting black T-shirts emblazoned with Ben Franklin’s dictum, “Beer is the proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
OOT began in Brooklyn in 2005 and has since spread to sixteen cities; the usual suspects, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, but also to Ypsilanti. Ko Kaiden, who began singing with OOT in NYC in 2006, started the local chapter when he moved here in 2009. Last year Glenn Perry, who studied voice at the U-M, joined him as co-managing divo.
On OOT nights the Sidetrack is often crowded, all tables full. If you don’t make reservations you’ll be lucky to snag a place in the bay window seat. Kaiden, Perry and a rotating cast of three other singers perform selections from well-known and obscure operas by Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, and Gounod, Tchaikovsky and Bernstein, as well as lighter fare: Gilbert and Sullivan, Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. All delivered legit–nothing dumbed down–with the power and beauty of tone that is opera’s hallmark. Patrons hush to pin-drop levels as soon as pianist Jean Schneider plays the opening notes of the intros. None of the singers use, or need, any amplification. Many in the audience are knowledgeable, greeting familiar, favorite arias with appreciative murmurs. Occasionally the singers even invite them to join in. For Beth Mitchell and Perry’s recent “Brindisi” duet from Verdi’s La Traviata (perhaps the best drinking song of all time), the back of the evening’s program served as the crowd’s crib sheet for the chorus parts. When Perry sang the famous “Nessun dorma” aria from Puccini’s Turandot, some hummed along on the lush orchestral fills between the vocal lines. A young lady in the crowd was seen to shush her dad when he tried singing along with Kaiden’s rendition of “O Sole Mio.”
Kaiden and Perry dress informally, but sopranos Mitchell, Elaina Robbins, and Kathy Ball, who’ve been joining them recently, sometimes bring out the finery. And there are plenty of comic moments when Perry dons the iconic horned headpiece from Die Walkuere (think Hagar the Horrible helmet) to get the audience’s attention at the start of the festivities, or when Robbins’ facial expressions convey her tomboyish role in Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment. Even the trains that rumble and whistle on the nearby tracks that inspired the Sidetrack’s name seem to pass by mostly between, rather than during, arias.