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    Opera Memphis plans to rock the streets with its classic hits

    Christopher Blank - The Commercial Appeal -

    Memphis may be best known for its old-school blues and legendary rock and roll, but in the coming month, the famed Memphis beat will be rocked by classic hits from an even older era.

    Opera Memphis is taking its act to the streets from Sept. 15 to Oct. 14, offering daily free performances throughout the city.

    During "30 Days of Opera, presented by Evolve Bank and Trust," four singers and a pianist will pop up in an assortment of venues to promote the classical repertoire.

    "It's basically a natural outgrowth of our plan to introduce more people to opera," said the company's general director, Ned Canty. "We keep talking about it in terms of 'turning the opera house inside out.'"

    Spur-of-the-moment events — an operatic stroll down Beale Street, or an impromptu library or park performance where people are gathered, for example — will alternate with hourlong, sit-down programs.

    The singers will focus primarily on easy-to-recognize arias from popular operas such as "La Boheme," the Puccini classic that officially opens the company's season on Nov. 9 and 11.

    Other, more unusual, offerings include a short children's opera that will use the Shelby Farms playground as a set on Oct. 6.

    Eight public library branches throughout Memphis will host pop-up concerts. An array of programs — including one titled "Opera Does Not Suck" — are aimed at new listeners.

    Wang-Ying Glasgow, adult services coordinator for the Memphis Public Library, said that the programs are a "win-win" for both the company and the public.

    "It's a wonderful community service," she said. "And for people like me who don't like opera, it allows us to give it another chance. Ned (Canty) is such a passionate salesman of opera that he makes me want to know more. He's got my attention."

    Dates and times for the sit-down performances are at operamemphis.org. Also, fans can sign up for Twitter and Facebook announcements or have text messages sent by texting the word "Opera" to 313131.

    In his second season as general director, Canty is heading a leaner opera company than his predecessor. Its two main stage productions, "La Boheme" and "Elixir of Love" (Feb. 2 and 5) at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre, mark a scaling-down from expensive productions staged in the much larger Orpheum in Downtown, where attendance had declined in recent years.

    Canty also is taking an artistic risk with more contemporary work. On April 4-7, the first Midtown Opera Festival, at Playhouse on the Square, will feature a double feature of "Bon Appetit!", a one-woman opera about Julia Child baking a cake, and "This is the Rill Speaking," based on a play by Lanford Wilson.

    Canty hopes that the smaller venues will make opera-going a more personal experience.

    He sees the "30 Days of Opera" idea as a grass-roots way to win new listeners.

    "We're going places where people live, shop and eat to kind of create a trail of breadcrumbs back to Opera Memphis," Canty said. "If it works, we can see this becoming an annual event."