You walk into a wine bar or a coffee house or a pub and you grab a table. You may be with some friends for a drink, you may be alone with a book or a pad, you may be meeting someone there. Then you hear a keyboard. Someone begins to sing.
Showtunes. Opera. Pop songs. Old standards.
You’ve unwittingly come upon an Inverse Opera cabaret.
Jadd Davis (former Casting Director at Village, Artistic Director at Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre), Lauren Marie Smith (5th Avenue Theatre Company Manager), and Jared Michael Brown (actor at 5th Avenue, Village, ArtsWest, Contemporary Classics) founded The Inverse Opera in 2011, wanting to provide a new option for singers to explore repertoire – and for audiences to experience terrific singing in a more personal light.
A majority of Inverse Opera’s offerings take the form of loosely themed cabarets where Seattle’s top-notch singers and performers can show off their stuff as themselves. “Focusing on the storytelling aspect of the human voice has been at the core of each performance, even though the format varies widely from full-scale productions to casual cabarets,” says Jadd Davis.
Inverse Opera performances fall into two main categories: free cabarets and ticketed concerts. The cabarets take place in wine bars, backyard BBQs or pubs like the Pike Brewery, and offer a wide variety of musical styles and singers, all situated around a loose theme. “It’s often quite challenging, but we end up with an endlessly unique set of performance parameters, which is artistically thrilling,” says Davis. “The possibilities are literally endless!”
One particularly delightful cabaret earlier this year was themed “Never Have I Ever,” where the performers chose a song that they either most likely would never get cast to do or haven’t had the chance yet. It was such a delight as an audience member to watch top-notch performers perform “that one song” they love, such as the 5th Avenue’s statuesque beauty Cayman Ilika purring “Old Man River” or Matthew Posner (5th Ave, Village, SecondStory) singing Figaro’s Aria, much to the happy confusion of passers-by peeking in from the street. Contrast this cabaret with the one that included songs from Ragtime and Les Miz, but also a hilarious rendition of “Firework,” sung by actor Sean Glynn (5th Ave, Village).
In terms of concerts and full productions, which are ticketed events, Inverse Opera has worked with ACT, Seattle Dance Project, and SecondStory Rep. This winter, Inverse Opera is teaming up with Taproot Theatre to present Handel’s Messiah. Taproot just finished building a brand-new performance space called the Kendall Center, which houses a black box theatre, cafe, and scene shop. To help inaugurate (or christen, if you will) the space, Taproot has invited Inverse Opera to be the first set of voices to echo in its theatre.
For classical music and voice nerds, the Messiah is the Holy Grail of Christmas music. Even people who don’t know a do from a re are familiar with the “Hallelujah Chorus.” But that’s just it, when you think of Messiah, you think of an overwhelming wall of sound with no real personality other than Grand. Inverse Opera wants to change that.
“Really, it fits well within our ‘storytelling’ idiom,” says Davis. “We felt that a small-scale production of a typically enormous oratorio would allow the story to be told in a subtler way; that audiences could really take a journey, as opposed to enjoying a choral extravaganza. Keeping classical singing personal is challenging, but when it’s done well, it’s intensely moving, and that is our goal with this chamber Messiah.”
Inverse Opera’s production features a cast of 12 singers, led by four of Seattle’s most talented vocalists: Erica Row (Vashon Opera, Village Theatre, Opera on Tap), Sonya Perez (Seattle Opera, Brooklyn Opera Orchestra), John Coons (Seattle Opera, Boston Symphony Pops) and Daniel Oakden (Seattle Opera, 5th Ave Theatre). The Messiah will be directed by Robert Scherzer with musical direction by Michael Nutting.
With small guerrilla theatre groups such as Inverse Opera, there is often pressure about growth, especially when the company begins to garner attention. So where is Inverse Opera going? How fast, how much?
“Collaboratively,” says Davis. “All of our best work has been created with other artists’ ideas helping guide us. We probably won’t end up owning or renting our own space, but as long as other folks are willing to work with us, we’ll keep providing art.”
The Inverse Opera at the Taproot Theatre Kendall Center
8pm December 13, 14, 20, and 21
Tickets ($25-$15) are available at www.taproottheatre.org or by calling 206-781-9707.