A Troupe is Bringing Opera to Where it Belongs: Houston Breweries

Opera has much in common with Shakespearean performances these days. Both are considered inaccessible to most people, as they’re perceived to require expensive tickets, hours of free time, specialized fluency in performance and possibly even a second language to fully comprehend and appreciate them. That’s even though both opera and The Bard’s works have origins in entertainment intended for all social strata, from paupers to princes and everyone in between. Houston’s punnily named HOPERA troupe wants to put a contemporary twist on classical music history by bringing opera back to the beer halls where it all began. 

On March 19, HOPERA will debut its first full-length performance, CARMENcita, at 8th Wonder Distillery at 2201 Dallas just east of downtown, followed by a showing on March 25 at Eureka Heights at 941 West 18th Street in the Heights. Both shows will start at 7 p.m. and run for 90 minutes with one intermission, and tickets are available via the troupe’s website for $18.

“I think this will be a really good way to introduce people to opera who think that they don’t belong, for whatever reason, because it’s this weird elitist culture of, ‘You need to know things to understand what’s going on,’” says Brennan Blankenship, soprano and HOPERA co-founder. “[We’ll] show them [that] no, you don’t, you don’t need to know anything. You can come in, we’ll sing a show and you’ll watch it and it’ll be great.”

CARMENcita is a streamlined interpretation of Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen arranged by HOPERA founder Megan Berti, a mezzo-soprano, in English rather than the original French. Joining her are fellow Houstonians Blankenship, tenor James Chamberlain, baritone Lee Gregory and pianist Dr. Andreea Muţ

Cast of CARMENcita, top left to bottom right: Lee Gregory, baritone, James Chamberlain, tenor, Dr. Andreea Muț, piano, Megan Berti, mezzo, Brennan Blankenship, soprano. Courtesy photo.

Although CARMENcita will be HOPERA’s initial foray into full-length operatic performances, it won’t be their first showcase as a troupe. Berti first envisioned her “craft drink meets craft music” concept while working at the now-shuttered Drink of Ages Pub. There, she stoked her dual passions for brews and tunes beneath the tutelage of Jon Denman, whom she refers to as “a local beer guru.” Barbacking helped her pay the bills while establishing a name for herself as an operatic chanteuse.

“[Deman] always had performances at the pub, but it would usually be local punk bands. Since I’m an opera singer, I always joked with him that we should do classical music. He thought that was a great idea,” Berti says. “So, I started working on the CARMENcita [arrangement] that we’re about to perform next month.”

A combination of the pub closing its doors and the COVID-19 pandemic that rose up immediately afterward required that Berti shelve her idea. In 2023, though, she reignited her dream after befriending Sean Rosenbaum of 8th Wonder and performing opera to a besotted Valentine’s Day crowd. From there, she recruited friends from Houston Grand Opera to join her on the 8th Wonder and, later, Eureka Heights, stages for recitals, dubbed “Pint Sized Performances.” 

Both venues offer special HOPERA beverages to accompany select shows, with flavors intended to reflect the mood of the evening’s songs. On the night of CARMENcita, for example, Eureka Heights will be offering its limited edition brew Cosmic Opera, described by the brewery as “a roaring pilsner dry hopped with comet,” a variety of hops. 

“We’re trying to bring something a little different to the table, and we want to bring opera into the community,” Berti says. “We’re keyed in right now to the craft drinks side of things, but performing in something like an art gallery would be absolutely fantastic. Converting an unconventional space into a performing space is absolutely the origin of most performing arts.”

From let to right: Brennan Blankenship, soprano, and Ricardo José Rivera, baritone, at 8th Wonder Distillery for a Pint-Sized Performance. Courtesy photo.

She and Blankenship also view HOPERA as an opportunity to help local opera singers take on gigs closer to home. Many of them have to travel to find work, as many opera audiences tend to show up more for out-of-town performers. This isn’t true for the crowds that show up to Eureka Heights and 8th Wonder, who appreciate a chance to listen to something new that’s been homebrewed (pun intended) right here in Houston. It’s all part of Berti and Blankenship’s ethos of making opera for everyone, as it was always intended to be. The beverages are a historically accurate bonus.

“Now, you go to an opera house, and you’re lucky if they let you bring drinks into the theater. You only get to eat during the 30-minute intermission, and the lines are so long, good luck having time to eat,” Blankenship says. “There’s this restriction of fun that Megan and I had been talking about bringing back to opera. How do we make opera what it used to be? It was an outing where you saw friends, you drank, you ate, you listened to people sing really well and enjoyed a story.”

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