It's Thursday night, and on a nearly bare stage in Old Town, petite young soprano Elizabeth D. Bacon—in skimpy white nightgown and pigtails—is singing the hell out of Gounod's darkly impassioned music from Faust: "Ah! I laugh, for I never, ever am depressed! Ah, I laugh, even when demonically possessed!"
Not quite the French of the original. But then, Bacon's not singing at the Keller or the Schnitz—she's center stage at the hip Someday Lounge. And her audience is distinctively not a group of septuagenarians sitting immaculately still, programs on laps: The crowd's diverse and noticeably young, they're drinking and they're laughing up a storm.
Welcome to the new face of opera in Portland. Opera Theater Oregon's "Cavalcade of Beautiful Losers" is a traveling group of young and hungry opera singers and assorted artists poised to grab the operatic art form by its high-collared throat and drag it, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. In a classical-music city that often seems disconnected from innovation or new trends in the field, OTO's Cavalcade bounds onto the scene with giddy energy, smartass irreverence and talent to burn.
The Cavalcade was born by singers Amy Russell Cathey and Katie Taylor, both Portland natives who met and dreamed up OTO, which emerged from the ashes of now-defunct Oregon Lyric Opera, a few years back. Both expressed the desire to showcase local classical talent in opera and other rep at nontraditional venues.
"We wanted to reach a different demographic," says Cathey, OTO's executive director. "We are nothing like Portland Opera...we like the drunk crowd."
These "opera for everyone" excursions at bars and pubs are a national trend, cropping up in New York City, Boston and San Francisco. Having it hit Portland, courtesy of OTO and the Cavalcade, puts our city at the forefront of operatic innovation for a change. And at $10 a ticket, the Cavalcade's affordable enough for opera newcomers to try without breaking the bank.
"I think it's possible that mainstage opera companies move closer to what we're doing here," says Taylor, OTO's artistic director. "Shorter shows in bars and clubs, with smaller casts." And popular as the Cavalcade is, it's not OTO's only iron in the fire: A series of silent-film-with-live-music events are planned for this summer, and a new staging of Donizetti's Elixir of Love is planned for this fall. "We may be small, but we're here to stay," Cathey says. "We're not going anywhere."