Hanoi restaurant goes high-brow with opera

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British conductor Graham Sutcliffe (R) and artists of the Vietnam National Opera and Ballet in a recent program at Luna D'Autunno.

Hanoi restaurant Luna D'Autunno is doing something very unusual having opera performances once a month in its informal setting.

It was an initiative by Graham Sutcliffe, British conductor of the Vietnam National Opera Ballet.

"I have been going to the restaurant regularly for a long time, and I asked the owner why there is no Italian music in such a wonderful space."

He has always wanted to take opera to the Vietnamese, who generally perceive it as academic music and difficult to understand.

He also realized that places like the Hanoi Opera House could be intimidating for those not quite used to watching high-brow music in large, darkened halls in pin-drop silence.

He decided the mountain must come to Mohammed.

He first persuaded Gino Benelli, owner of the restaurant, a year ago.

Then he got singers from the Vietnam National Opera Ballet to perform there, with Thang Long, Vanh Khuyen, Manh Dung, and Ngoc Diep being the main singers.

"Every month I mix the program sometimes I do only operas by Bellini or by Rossini.

"I also have to arrange the music for the singers. It can be a piano, which is normal, so I have to find something more special and arrange a string quartet."

It is now performed on the third Wednesday of every month at 78 Tho Nhuom Street.

In the restaurant, people eat and drink and listen to the opera, making it more informal than in the theater and interesting audiences more, he says.

Diners can sing too. "By having a role, I think, audiences can enjoy more."

In Italy, people sing opera on the streets, he says.

"I want to show Vietnamese that opera doesn't have to be academic music. Opera is funny and emotional."

But since people often do not know the story behind a piece, Graham sometimes explains to the diners.

The program has been a success.

Graham says: "A year ago the restaurant did not have many customers. I have been there quite a lot, but never seen it full. Now, on opera evenings, people have to book a table in advance."

Benelli concurs saying that during the performances the restaurant gets very crowded.

Since the space available is small, singers and musicians have to perform very near their audiences. "It is very good, because when the audiences are happy, they sing better."

The upcoming program will take place on March 21. For booking, call (04) 3 823 7338 or email to lunadautunno@gmail.com.

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