Singers take supermarket customers by surprise

Aisles of Harbor East Whole Foods store become impromptu stages for opera

March 24, 2010|By Mary Carole McCauley | mary.mccauley@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

There was romance among the rutabagas this afternoon in the Whole Foods grocery store, passion among the persimmons.

Five singers from the Washington Opera's young artists program took to the aisles of the Harbor East market at 1001 Fleet St., disguised in the black aprons and black caps normally worn by employees of the market.

A few minutes after 1 p.m., an announcement came over the store loudspeaker announcing that tickets to this weekend's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert were being given away in the produce section.

As about a dozen onlookers assembled, tenor Jesus Hernandez hefted a ripe avocado in his palm and stared wistfully at soprano Jennifer Waters as she bent over the oranges. Suddenly, Hernandez put down the fruit, threw his cap in the air and burst forth into the familiar strains of "Libiamo," the celebrated homage to drinking and love in Giuseppi Verdi's "La Traviata."

As the onlookers cheered and applauded, the two began to waltz, while singers Emily Albrink, Aleksey Bogdanov and Cynthia Hanna joined in the chorus. Perhaps half a dozen shoppers filmed the performance on their cell phones.

The stunt, which was modeled on a similar artistic prank pulled Nov. 13, 2009 in a market in Valencia, Spain, is aimed at promoting the singers' weekend appearances with the Symphony.

"The first time I saw the video from Spain, I thought, 'Sure, we can do that,' " said Laura Farmer, the Symphony's manager of public relations. "For Baltimore's opera-starved audiences, we thought it was time to get operas into whole new venues and places you wouldn't expect to hear it sung."

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