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REVIEW: State Opera of South Australia’s ‘Opera In The Pub’ at Saracens Head Hotel

Review by Markus Hamence – Performance date: Sunday 23 June 2024, Saracens Head Hotel, Adelaid

If you think opera is all about grand stages and formal attire, think again folks! The State Opera of South Australia’s ‘Opera In The Pub’ series is a refreshing twist on the traditional opera experience. This casual, yet sophisticated event breaks down the barriers of the classical music world, bringing it closer to everyday life. A new concept brought to life by the fabulous people of our states opera company saw it’s first event launch at The Lion in North Adelaide in May. It was booked out. I threw on a jacket and popped along out of curious and piqued interest to the second instalment at The Saracens Head in Carrington Street in the city and again it was a booked out afternoon. Clearly they are onto something good with this. Here’s my thoughts…

The Venue

The Saracens Head Hotel, with its historic charm and cozy ambiance, provides the perfect backdrop for this unique opera experience. The vibe at the venue is inviting and the staff are cool. The intimate setting allows for a close-up encounter with the performers, making the evening feel personal and immersive. It’s my regular local too as it’s just ’round the corner from home, bonus!

State Opera SA’s Opera in the Pub at The Lion in North Adelaide on 19th of May 2024. Photo: Naomi Jellicoe

The Performer: A Voice That Captivates

The performers from the State Opera of South Australia are nothing short of spectacular and always deliver a performance that blows my mind (and ears). Adelaide-born Soprano Jess Mills is the leading lady of these shows and what this woman can’t sing isn’t worth singing. Mills’ powerful voice fills the room with an intensity that resonates with every listener, from opera aficionados to first-timers. Jess for the avid State Opera go-ers would know here from… First Bridesmaid and Barbarina understudy (The Marriage of Figaro), Isabel (Pirates of Penzance), Swing/Angela alternate (Love Burns), Bright Lights & Big Dreams, La traviata, Voss and Bohème on the Beach.

The proximity to the singer allows you to see every expression and feel every emotion, creating a deeply engaging experience. The informal setting also means the singer can interact with the audience (and she did), adding a layer of charm and spontaneity to the performance.

Jess was backed on keys by the incomparable Josh van Konkelenberg. The guy is a master. For State Opera South Australia, he recently was the touring conductor of Love Burns and Associate Conductor in Adelaide Festival’s 2024 centrepiece The Nightingale and Other Fables, as well as appearing in several recitals at UKARIA Cultural Centre.

Jess and Josh are my new Dynamic Duo. Bravo.

State Opera SA’s Opera in the Pub at The Lion in North Adelaide on 19th of May 2024. Photo: Naomi Jellicoe

The Repertoire

The afternoon’s repertoire was a stunning mix of popular arias and lesser-known gems, catering to a wide range of tastes. Whether it’s the hauntingly beautiful melodies of Quando me’n vo’ – La Bohème or the spirited arias of Adelaide’s Aria – The Enchanted Pig, there’s something for everyone. The selection is thoughtfully curated to keep the audience entertained and intrigued throughout the night. The relaxed environment of the pub makes it easy to appreciate the music without the intimidation that sometimes accompanies traditional opera settings.

A rendition of Somewhere from West Side Story was a total slam dunk. Jess nailed it and had us cheerily singing along. it was a joy.

As the show drew to a close it came with a super duper surprise too… As the music to Ah! mes amis from La fille du régiment started up, from behind the bar another performer appeared. Callum McGing, last seen in The Frog Prince during Adelaide Fringe, joined the festivities and belted out high c’s like a pro. This guy is going places. and the future looks blindingly bright. Jess and Callum together are a force of nature vocally. A terrific pairing.

The Atmosphere

What sets ‘Opera In The Pub’ apart is its casual elegance. Us punters can enjoy a drink and a meal while being serenaded by world-class opera singers. The blend of fine music and the laid-back pub atmosphere creates a unique, enjoyable experience. It’s a fantastic way to introduce opera to new audiences, as well as to enjoy it in a different, more relaxed context. A cosy pub, a parmy, a beer, a wine and ridiculously great voices, does it get any better? Well, heck, yes it certainly does… The show ticket is FREE! Damn, there’s no better reason to get amongst it and try it out and dip your toe into opera.

Final Thoughts

‘Opera In The Pub’ is a must-attend event for anyone looking to experience opera in a fun and informal setting. The State Opera of South Australia has brilliantly reimagined the way we engage with this timeless art form. Whether you’re a seasoned opera lover or someone new to the genre, this event offers a refreshing and captivating night out.

In summary, if you’re in Adelaide and looking for an unforgettable evening, head along to the next ‘Opera In The Pub’. It’s a delightful fusion of culture, community, and casual charm that promises to leave you enchanted.

The next ‘Opera In The Pub’ – Sunday 21 July, 3.30pm at The Cremorne Hotel, Unley


Visit their website for all the upcoming operas!

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