[Carolyn Webb | The Age]

“This is like going to see a band. You come and see opera, you have a drink, it’s more casual, you sit back and relax.”

An opera performance “without the boring bits” will see a Melbourne strip club dancer take to the stage with classically trained singers for a cabaret-style version of Verdi’s La Traviata.

Director Julie Edwardson said an earlier season of four performances in 2013 at The Men’s Gallery achieved her aim of bringing new audiences to opera.

A big drawcard for the audience, she said, was curiosity about what’s inside the club, in the west end of Lonsdale Street.

“After we’d finished, people were ringing up saying, ‘are you doing any more shows’?” Edwardson said.

Pole dancer Jewel Stone, left,  believes that pole dancing is an art form, like opera, 'although it's not recognised as one'.

This time there will be six shows, and for the first time, a Men’s Gallery employee, Jewel Stone, will pole-dance to three of the songs.

The cabaret-style show, with Verdi’s arias interspersed with jazz and blues songs by Etta James and Cole Porter and a Moulin-Rouge style look, aims to change the mindset that opera is boring.

Tickets for the season, on from July 16 to 31, are free to under 25s, the opera is trimmed from three hours to 90 minutes, and there is no nudity.

Shows start at 4pm when The Men’s Gallery is usually closed.

The Men's Gallery, in Lonsdale Street, is playing host to a repeat season of operas.

La Traviata, meaning “the fallen woman”, was based on Alexander Dumas’s The Lady of the Camellias.  It tells how a Parisian courtesan, Violetta (soprano Justine Anderson) falls in love with a young nobleman, Alfredo Germont (tenor Te Ua Houkamau).

Alfredo’s father Giorgio (baritone David Skewes), who is worried about Alfredo’s reputation, convinces Violetta to break off their engagement, but neither lover can forget the other.

The tragedy deepens when Violetta contracts tuberculosis.

The big arias from La Traviata including the famous “brindisi” or drinking song, remain, but there is also a chorus of women who sing jazz and blues songs such At Last, and When I Fall in Love.

The songs (except for the brindisi) are in English, the actors sing in-the-round just metres from the audience, and the bar will be open.

Stone said she is excited to be performing to a different, less sexualised, crowd and believes that pole dancing is an art form, like opera, “although it’s not recognised as one”.

She says staging La Traviata here could help humanise club dancers and challenge prejudices: like Violetta the courtesan, some people thought exotic dancers were “from a different realm”, but they can and do have relationships such as Violetta’s with Alfredo.

Edwardson started staging “cut” operas – “opera without the boring bits” – with her company, Emotionworks, out of a feeling that one way to attract the generation of video games and iPhones to opera, “is by cutting out those lengthy repeated music sections, getting to the point of it, getting the best tunes in there and then mixing in other genres.”

“This is like going to see a band. You come and see opera, you have a drink, it’s more casual, you sit back and relax.”

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