Velvet Voices Underground
Velvet Voices Underground perform a cabaret-style show that ranges from Puccini to Sinatra to Tears for Fears. The three female vocalists are all classically trained, with clear, crisp operatic voices that fill the room. This group explores a variety of genres in the swinging, informal atmosphere of a hip downtown club, The Green Room.
Recontextualizing opera alongside jazz and rock creates a musical juxtaposition that the group hopes will appeal even to music fans who aren’t usually keen on theatrical classical music.
The star voices of Velvet Voices Underground are Jill Snyder, Dixie Dahl, and Marta Fisher. Dahl focuses on arias, like “Porgi Amor” from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, as well as downbeat contemporary pop like the Tears for Fears classic “Mad World.” She was drawn to the song because of the Gary Jules rendition used to such great effect in the already-a-cult-classic film Donnie Darko, from 2001.
“It brought me to tears every time I heard it, so I thought, well, I’ve got to do it,” she says. Her version, like Jules', intensifies the melancholy of the melody and the wistful alienation of the lyrics.
Snyder performs arias like “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi as well as Celtic and contemporary fare. Fisher is the jazz singer, pulling off energetic performances of songs like the Frank Sinatra hit “The Lady is a Tramp.” Fisher’s wide-ranging resume includes jazz, classical and theater work, a Christmas album and work with Counterpoint, who she tags with the somewhat frightening description “metaphysical avant-garde rock.”
Many of the selections feature choreographed dancers Marian Tausch-Lambert, Anastasia Bombadilla, and, with just one word to her name, Kahele. The dancers will be powerfully perfumed as flowers for Dahl and Snyder’s “The Flower Duet,” from the opera Lakme by Leo Delibes, a number with sexual overtones. “The Flower Duet” is one of the many selections familiar even to non-opera fans because of its regular use in film and television. “If it’s been in a car ad,” says Snyder, “you’ll hear it in our show.” And there’s a secret encore sure to delight fans of the movie Anchorman.
Snyder came up with the group’s name partly in tribute to the visionary rock band The Velvet Underground (she plans to include the band’s homage to S&M, “Venus in Furs” in future shows) and partly in tribute to “the resurgence of Bohemia in Reno.”
The group contends that opera performed in a nightclub creates a “synergistic effect.” The energetic, informal environment puts the performers at ease. It’s casual and they can have a drink with the audience after (and sometimes during) the show and, says Dahl, “You can see the audience, unlike during most stage productions.”
Snyder describes the experience as an “intimate, safe place to respond to music naturally, viscerally. We’re trying to give opera some street cred.” For the audience, it’s a chance to see classically trained performers in an environment that’s quite different than the aloof, detached, restrictive halls in which one usually encounters opera. Even music fans who struggle with opera—admittedly, I am among them—can appreciate the music by approaching it the way we normally enjoy our favorite art forms: by drinking beer and enjoying the more sensually provocative aspects of the performance.