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Atlanta Opera's Pop-up Opera

Culture ain’t necessarily onstage

If you’re at the market this month selecting some fresh cauliflower or endive, and a deep baritone behind you suddenly belts out the opening lines to “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from Porgy & Bess, feel free to join other shoppers in the call-and-response: “Wadoo, zim bam boddle-oo/Hoodle ah da wa da/Scatty wah!” You have been fortunate enough to catch a Pop-up Opera from the Atlanta Opera.

The company did a couple of these “impromptu” performances last year, at the Sandy Springs Farmers Market and at Atlantic Station, and plans more this winter to promote upcoming shows of the Gershwin classic and Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte. “We want to expose people to the art form,” says Atlanta Opera communications manager Laura Soldati. “We want people to understand how powerful it can be live.”

Inspired by flash mobs, operas around the country have been staging seemingly unplanned concerts in public places. Chicago Opera Theater arranged the first event in late 2009, but the best known is the entire Opera Company of Philadelphia’s rousing rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus” at a downtown Macy’s. Their YouTube video received more than 5 million hits in November alone. That particular spectacle was the most ambitious so far in the Miami-based Knight Foundation’s 1,000 Random Acts of Culture.

Although Atlanta’s performances are on a far smaller scale, the logistics are still daunting. To preserve the surprise, singers have to blend seamlessly into a crowd, and locations must be kept secret. Musical accompaniment can be a challenge. Thus far the Atlanta Opera has relied on a single opera karaoke CD.

The best repertoire is also lighthearted and invites audience participation, says Soldati. “People’s tendency is to assume opera is very dramatic, when there’s really a lot of humor in it. Most operas have a wealth of emotion.”

Illustration by Mark Matcho