New York Philharmonic Finds Life with David Robertson
Nouveau Classical Project at (le) Poisson Rouge

Opera on Tap Presents "SMASHED" at HERE Arts Center

by Melanie Wong


In accordance with their self-proclaimed mission to reach new audiences and change America’s “stuffy” and “elitist” perception of opera, nonprofit organization Opera on Tap presented their first original opera, SMASHED: The Carrie Nation Story, last week at HERE Arts Center. Lightly based on the story of legendary temperance leader Carrie Nation, the one-act opera told the story of booze: the people who drink it, and the people who don’t.

As audience members found their seats in the black box theater, they passed an onstage urinal next to a New York Department of Health "C"-grade sign, a lone drunk sitting at a bar, and a group of noodling musicians—each with beer in hand. The lone drunk proved to be the narrator (portrayed by Lynn Berg) and opened the show by stumbling over the audience, greeting them as he went.

The ensuing hour proved to be a hilarious slapstick-style opera that included a supermodel-status God, played by Joseph Flaxman, who Carrie addressed as “Big Dog,” communicated through an oversized diamond-crusted iPhone, donned Ray-Bans, consistently re-enacted a Sistine Chapel pose with his followers, and gifted Carrie with a scared jumbo bottle of tequila. Other highlights included the “27 Evils of Booze,” during which a newly sober Carrie (Krista Wozniak) and the bartender (also performed by Flaxman) entered into a debate over the pros and cons of alcohol, while a scientist (Flaxman again) gave an amusing lecture on beer.

Contemporary chamber ensemble Hotel Elefant starred as house band, giving an effective performance of Brooklyn-based composer James Barry’s quirky and fitting score. The supporting cast, in the form of the “Carrie Nation All-Stars” and “Uncle Jimmy Liquid Courage Brigade” provided entertaining backup throughout. Although Timothy Braun’s comical libretto succeeded in keeping the audience laughing, the plotline was iffy and the ending was cheap, with Carrie jumping on the alcoholic bandwagon after losing a coin toss. Regardless of the plot, however, each of the actors sang with great ease and character; and Opera on Tap was able to accomplish its goal: Anyone who experiences the absurd booze-opera will go happy and with a fully transformed view of opera. 

SMASHED: The Carrie Nation Story was part of the SubletSeries@HERE Program, providing artists with discounted space, equipment, and technical support.