We just finished our antipasti- slices of fried eggplant with a dab of tomato sauce; a chunk of roasted red pepper cupping some sausage stuffing; a big bite of the classic caprese combo- when the singing began. The packed room fell suddenly silent, forks ceased their steady movement from plate to mouth, and every head turned to watch the young woman in a red dress the moment she burst into song. It was Opera Monday at La Dolce Vita in Little Italy and I was there with my daughter-in-law, Diana Farrell, an opera singer herself, for an evening of music and food. Every table was full, suggesting Clevelanders have quite an appetite for the combination of pasta and Puccini.
Here's how it works: there's a prix fixe, $40 per person menu. Wine is optional and you can get a good bargain priced glass pf Barbera or splurge on an excellent bottle of Amarone. The meal is served in courses, and in between each one, a changing cast of performers, most students from the Cleveland Institute of Music's opera program, fill the intimate space with their big voices, singing solo selections or duets.
Owner Terry Tarantino introduced them. It was clear he loves the art form and gets real pleasure from sharing it with his customers. What's nice is the chance to listen without all the formal trappings that are usually part of the experience. Sometimes the singers stayed on the small stage, but for one piece the soprano strolled between tables, and for another the tenor positioned himself behind the bar to great effect. Adam Whiting, the pianist, deserves special mention for coaxing lovely notes out of the 130 year old upright that provides the accompaniment.
Tarantino's been hosting opera nights like this for two decades but the programs been on hiatus for about 51/2 years and just recently resumed. It happens twice a month- the next one is scheduled for February 27. You must arrive between 6:30 and 7 PM. Reservations are required and there's only a single seating.