Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Opera on Tap striving to bring ‘snooty’ music to bars

They find their fans in more casual venues


Michele DeVinney

Whatzup Features Writer

Published June 11, 2020

There are some art forms that are widely respected yet still intimidate audiences.

Opera is decidedly in that category. The first Opera on Tap launched in Brooklyn in 2005 with a mission to open up the form to a new audience in venues which lessen the intimidation and even allow for interaction which is obviously not possible in more traditional settings.

Impressed with the fort’s art scene

When Elaina Robbins moved to Fort Wayne from Ann Arbor, she had already been part of that local chapter of Opera on Tap and saw the power of taking opera to the people.

Working with Heartland Sings brought Robbins to Fort Wayne, but she also knew she wanted to start Opera on Tap in in her adopted hometown. The response was immediately and positive.

“Opera is often seen as snooty and inaccessible,” Robbins said. “The mission of Opera on Tap is to present it in a more casual way. One of the funniest things somebody said after our first show was, ‘We’re going to become Deadheads for Opera on Tap!’”

The debut show was held at Hop River Brewing. They packed the house. Additional shows at JK O’Donnell’s proved equally successful, and the future was bright, filled with monthly performances and more opera converts.

Then it all came to a screeching halt.

Then came the coronavirus

“Things changed quickly,” said Robbins, who co-manages Opera on Tap Fort Wayne with Ian Williams and Alana Scaglioni. “With places closing, we realized immediately that we weren’t going to be able to do the shows we had scheduled, but some communities transformed to digital. A lot of people were losing their livelihoods and were scrambling to deal with it, looking for some virtual form of expression. The New York chapter of Opera on Tap began coordinating how we could still perform virtually.

“Our first show after that was in April, and I was the emcee,” Robbins continued. “This one was hard to do, and I was more nervous about that than I had ever been before a live performance. There were a lot of different factors in doing a livestream, and I’m not a sound engineer. It was extremely time consuming, and people had sent me all of these recordings that I had to edit. I felt responsible to do a good job because people had spent a lot of time and effort and had been pretty creative.”

By the May show, the team had conquered many of their fears and had ironed out some of the technical challenges, allowing them to have fun with it. With things still unknown going forward, the June show is somewhat uncertain, but there’s a plan for a Fourth of July tribute which will happen one way or another on June 25.

“That show will be exclusively sung in English,” Robbins said. “We don’t know yet whether it was be live or virtual. It’s currently scheduled for Hop River, but we’re paying close attention to the curve and will act in the best interest of our audience. That’s our first priority because we’re not putting anyone at risk.”

Loving the mission

Robbins loves the mission of Opera on Tap, which requires its singers to have degrees in voice and vocal performance and be vigorously trained singers with strong musical backgrounds.

But the singers also need to be open to what makes Opera on Tap different.

“We want people to be able to relate to it,” Robbins said. “Our venues are small, and we’re not separated by a stage. We’ll just walk around, so it’s very interactive. We might even take someone’s hand as we move around the audience.

“We want people to know that we’re just normal people. We also work around the language barrier by explaining beforehand what’s going on, and we’ll act it out some we can overcome that barrier.”

Robbins, who also teaches at Purdue Fort Wayne, said when she moved here from Ann Arbor, she was impressed with the level of artistry in the city.

But she also sees how Opera on Tap fills a niche in a busy arts community.

“We’re in a unique position in that there’s no opera house in Fort Wayne,” she said. “We’re the one organization exclusively dedicated to bringing opera here, and I’d love to eventually bring real productions to Fort Wayne, full productions done in a bar or some other venue. It’s something we’re looking at down the road, after we have established ourselves.

“In the meantime we’re focusing on our shows and virtual shows. We’d also have to do some fundraising as soon as it’s safe and feasible. What we need to do right now is ride this out and roll with the punches while we have as much fun as we can.”

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