So the answer is: yes, opera in a small room in the basement of a bar is a really good idea. No, the atmosphere never veered toward the rowdy--the crowd, in fact, was no younger than anywhere uptown in a bigger room--but it's simply very worth doing to take in opera on the scale where theater can be achieved in an intimate, direct way.
Speaking still of Opera Omnia's Poppea, presented here in English. Opera in translation is something that usually elicits bestial shrieks of fury from yours truly, but in this case and similar ones, I'll make an exception...I'll forgive a little of the awkwardness that rides on the back of translation (all but the best translations, and even then art and artifice have something to do with each other) for a couple of reasons. Probably the main one is that this kind of theater has immediacy as a keynote. I have listened to (obvious example) Elektra eleventy million times, but it still doesn't enter my head unmediated, if you see what I mean. There's a tradeoff--if I dare use the word authenticity, some of that is lost: the original way the sound lived in the words. But for losing that, you get an experience that's closer to watching tv. (Alright, I'm being deliberately provoc by not picking theatre, spelled "re" for good measure.)
Anyway yeah it's in English.
And an interesting thing about the production that could be seen as a fault or a strength is that there's a homogeneity of approach that can be seen in the singing of English--some singers going with a fairly talk-like diction, others singing "duty" as "dyoo-tee"--and carries over into other areas of performance. Basically all the singers have a different balance of strengths, the theatrical, the linguistic, the technical, the raw materials...and overall I think this makes for interesting listening and watching.
The most satisfying of these varying balances surely was embodied by Melissa Fogarty, the evening's Ottavia, she of the tremulous tone and smartly understated tragic air. "Disprezzata Regina" or whatever it comes out as in English (one likes to play at bad translator and imagine things that work metrically but not otherwise. We'll call that scena "Sister girl's in the doghouse") was dramatically and vocally a highlight of the performance.
Cherry Duke as Nerone and Hai-Ting Chinn as That Girl had a fascinating chemistry rooted in Ms. Duke's physical take on the role, honestly about the most forget-what-you're-actually-seeing travesti turn I can think of just now. Ms. Chinn responded with a Poppea who was a creature of instinct who learned years ago what her looks would get her. Not for nothing, Ms. Chinn works a bob to make Louise Brooks ask for a scrunchy. The vocals of the pair didn't always have the same poise as Ms. Fogarty's, but were never lacking.
Steven Hrycelak sang Seneca in elegant voice, with pathos. Props as well to Avi Stein, who brought polish and depth to a score that to opera queens per se (am I fair in saying?) has some notable longeurs. I mean, even with all the above-mentioned valorous work, Act I requires eyelid muscles of steel...or in the case of this performance in this venue, some gin. (You may be disappointed to hear, as I hinted earlier, that, non-traditional surroundings notwithstanding, the assembled crowd declined to observe period practice and at no point threw things at Poppea for being such a rotter, nor even yelled and cursed.)
In news of the...what's the opposite of monumentally important?, I just made this page for the likely event that I will be taking in opening night from the plaza or other rustic, downright outdoorsy environs, and am sure as hell not taking a laptop. Perhaps I'll use it during the season for 140-character liveblog reviews in brief: Intermissions at Intermissions.