Hoity-toity. Artsy-fartsy. That’s the technical terminology which Amanda Balltrip used to describe a common perception of the form of musical performance known as opera. Balltrip, well-schooled as an operatic performer herself, is looking to change that perception this weekend.
“No Shirt, No Shoes, No Opera” will be presented by Watershed Arts Alliance this Saturday, May 26 beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Flashback Theater Co.’s black box theater, at the intersection of College and East Mt. Vernon Streets in Somerset.
The idea? Offer a taste of some of the classics to Somerset — in a laid-back way that’s a little less scary than the formality of balcony boxes and tuxedo dress codes.
“The idea is, we wanted it to be a classy evening, but opera has a perception of being very hoity-toity and artsy-fartsy,” said Balltrip, Director of Music Education at McNeil Music Center in Somerset and a graduate of the University of Kentucky’s opera program. who studied under the late famed soprano Gail Robinson.
“I want to break those barriers,” she continued,” and show that opera is a form of theater, and that it is accessible to everyone.”
Balltrip knows of what she speaks. An accomplished vocalist and actress, Balltrip has appeared in some of the biggest names in the opera game. “Cosi fan tutte.” “La Boheme.” “Die Fledermaus.” Balltrip was chosen by composer Thomas Pasatieri in 2007 to play the leading lady in his then-new comic opera, “The Hotel Casablanca,” and in 2009 created the role of Ann Rutledge in the world premiere of “River of Time” by Joseph Baber, an historical opera about Abraham Lincoln. She’s also appeared in multiple local productions with Flashback Theater and in “Mary Poppins” with the Lexington Theatre Co., and has recently performed with the National Chorale at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Balltrip noted that the idea for Saturday’s event grew out of encouragement from the City of Somerset in an effort to see more art presented downtown. The event is being presented by the non-profit Watershed Arts Alliance, of which Balltrip is a part, but Balltrip wanted to give credit to her fellow Watershed board member Brian Covert not only for coming up with a nifty color-blocked poster promoting the event (visible on the windows of numerous downtown businesses) but also with the “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Opera” name.
“As we were talking about what this event would be like, and that we wanted it to be a night of opera but to be relaxed and fun, ‘No Shirt, No Shoes, No Opera’ kind of fit the bill,” she said.
Arias being performed will include “O Mio Babbino Caro” by Giacomo Puccini, which Balltrip describes as “the soprano national anthem” that’s been heard on mainstream TV shows like “America’s Got Talent”; “Mi Chiamano Mimì” from Puccini’s “La Boheme”; and “Lucia di Lammermoor,” an aria popularized in the 1997 sci-fi film “The Fifth Element” (though Balltrip noted with a wink that she won’t be doing the accompanying “diva dance” from the film).
Balltrip will be performing with accompaniment by pianist Debby McDonald. The event is free, but suggested donations of $10 are encouraged. Balltrip said she will be telling the stories behind the songs and giving background to them so those maybe hearing them for the first time know what they’re experiencing and hopefully gain a little bit more appreciation for one of the world’s great art forms.
“No one should be threatened; who’s afraid of opera?” she quipped. “I will be doing most everything in its original language, save one or two pieces, but that is not something to be afraid of.”