Flash Opera Strikes Center City

You're buying your weekly sopresetta and organic eggs Saturday afternoon at the Reading Terminal Market, and the guy next to you starts belting out Verdi. A woman nearby joins in. And another. They're pretty good, and you sense they're being accompanied by the sound of a full orchestra. And then you realize the joke is on you.

Only it's not a joke. Saturday at Philadelphia's great kitchen pantry, the Opera Company of Philadelphia ambushed shoppers by planting a little La Traviata among the green grocers, bakery stalls and fish mongers. OCP called it "Flash Opera," and to my mind, it was much more than a publicity stunt for the troupe's upcoming run of La Traviata.

Watch the video, produced and smartly edited by Beholder Productions. One of OCP's thirty choristers who showed up for the event - they were dressed like any other shoppers - starts to sing. Two young women listen and chuckle. An older woman looks completely enraptured. Listeners start snapping pictures. One of the female singers puts her arm around an older man while she sings, as his wife cracks up. Verdi's "Brindisi" picks up steam, and the chorus finishes with a flourish. The Saturday afternoon crowd of unsuspecting listeners breaks into applause and cheers of "bravo."

I have to say, this might be the first staged promotional event that's made me break into tears. Some of it is the editing, of course. But the whole idea of this kind of intimate, surprise contact with the public is so charming, and shows so vividly the power of classical music, that it soars with vindication.

Vindication of what?

For me, it's the idea that classical music is for everyone. The Reading Terminal Market might be the most eclectic meeting place in a city that tends to still sort itself out according to class, wealth and race. Everyone shops there. And here was a group of listeners who were not self-selecting as classical lovers. You aren't surprised when you see someone loving opera in the Academy of Music, after all; they loved it enough to pay a lot of money to take several hours out of the daily routine to be there.

But in this case classical music was thrown into the atmosphere with a total lack of expectation that anyone would love it. Some shoppers went about their business, not interested enough in the piped-in orchestral sound and live singing to stop and listen. But to plenty of others - if their faces are to be believed - it apparently meant a great deal.

Flash Opera means it turns out the woman standing next to you, purse slung over her shoulder and coffee cup in hand, has a great voice. And it means you don't have to look as far as you might think to uncover a latent opera lover.