Review: On Site Opera’s "The Immersive Coffee Cantata Experience" a Caffeinated and Joyful Romp

The Immersive Coffee Cantata Experience

Music by Johann Sebastian Bach

New English Libretto and orchestration by Geoffrey McDonald

Presented by On Site Opera at The Lost Draft Coffee Shop

398 Broome Street, Manhattan, NYC

February 14-24, 2024

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Presenting a new English libretto and orchestration of Bach’s secular cantata BWV 211 Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Be still, stop chattering), more commonly known as the Coffee Cantata, On Site Opera’s The Immersive Coffee Cantata Experience was a true delight from beginning to end. Its skillful adaptation to a modern context and outstanding musical performances, like the delicious coffee served throughout the performance, left the audience wanting more.

Likely first performed in a coffee house in Leipzig, Germany, Bach’s cantata couples light-hearted jabs at the newly emerging coffee culture of his own time (and its critics) with his characteristically masterful blend of vocal and instrumental music. On Site Opera’s adaptation did justice to the original work while making it thoroughly legible and relevant to a modern audience. The production was staged in a modern café, with the narrator recast as a barista (Bernard Holcomb) who also introduced the coffee tastings served to the audience throughout the show. Dueling father Schlendrian (Philip Cokorinos) and daughter Lieschen (Christine Lyons) worked on an online dating profile together when she finally (but briefly) gave up coffee in order to pursue marriage. Geoffrey McDonald’s English translation was elegant and effective in conveying the text while also fitting seamlessly with Bach’s music, beautifully orchestrated for flue, violin, cello, and guitar.

The musical performances truly shone in this production. The instrumentalists (members of the American Modern Ensemble) were a seamless fit in the coffee shop, projecting well without dominating the space. The vocalists acted their roles without sacrificing musicianship, and both text and music were on full display. They used the space to its full advantage, performing behind (and occasionally on) the counter as well as amongst the café tables, interacting with the audience as well as the Lost Draft’s staff, who assisted in serving coffee, throughout the performance.

The original libretto’s casual jabs at coffee drinkers and their critics, now performed under a menu of $8 specialty drinks with an audience happily tasting exotic brews, was as relevant, and enjoyable, as ever.

-Stephanie Pietros


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