published Friday, July 27th, 2012

Phillips: Here, there may be Vikings (but probably not)

Opera may be spelled with five letters, but to many people, it might as well have just four.

Then again, many opera-phobes distill the genre down to a bunch of stuffy socialites watching heavyset people dressed as Vikings screaming at wine glasses until they break.

There is a hint of truth to that aesthetic in German composer Richard Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen," but assuming all operas are alike is like suggesting all lead singers are Steve Perry and all rock bands dress like Kiss.

I'm hardly an opera connoisseur, but when I was younger, I did see -- and thoroughly enjoy -- Gilbert & Sullivan's comic opera "H.M.S. Pinafore."

That doesn't give me claim to any degree of expertise, but it did open my eyes to the genre's breadth. (All wine glasses survived unscathed, to the best of my knowledge, and there was nary a horned helmet in sight.)

You may not realize it, but there is a burgeoning operatic community in Chattanooga, and until recently the only way to hear it was by sneaking into an audition or attending a competition.

Like all up-and-coming musicians, the only way to become comfortable onstage is by performing, which opera singers have few opportunities to do. Several months ago, local soprano Sara Snider Schone decided to change that.

From 6 to 8 p.m. this Sunday at The Chattanoogan hotel's Foundry Lounge, Schone will host the fourth iteration of Divas & Drinks, Chattanooga's only (to my knowledge) open-mike night for operatic and classical singers.

There, singers of all skill levels, many of whom are semi-professional or accomplished amateurs, can practice audition pieces or tackle new works without experiencing the usual amount of pressure.

"You get to sing in front of an audience ... that's not judging you or scoring you in any way," Schone said. "Most of us spend most of our time singing for competitions and auditions, where that's all they're doing: giving you the once-over to see if you look and sound the part."

Schone said she was unsure when she first hosted the event how popular it would be, but after three times at six- to eight-week intervals, she has a group of about eight regular performers.

Opera doesn't really have a touchstone song to match karaoke staples such as Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" or Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings," but Schone prefers to nip the problem in the bud by selecting a theme to help hone the selections. This Sunday's is "It's a Group Thing" for duo and ensemble pieces.

Those interested in performing should contact Schone at 423-667-0928 or sarasniderschone@gmail.com in advance so she has an accurate head count. Singers planning to attend should bring copies of music for themselves as well as an unmarked copy for the event's long-suffering pianist, Tim Hinck.

The event is free, so if you are open to changing your opinion about opera or are already a fan, this is a golden opportunity to experience it firsthand.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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