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J. Shane Mercer, Published February 12 2009

FM Opera to perform 'Face on the Barroom Floor' at Fort Noks Bar

“Face on the Barroom Floor” is what Fargo-Moorhead Opera General Manager David Hamilton calls, “opera very much up close and personal.”

No doubt. The company will perform Henry Mollicone’s one-act opera tonight and tomorrow at Fargo’s Fort Noks Bar. Hamilton says the actors will perform among the audience members, and seating for the show is limited to 100 people per performance.

Concordia Assistant Professor of Voice Peter Halverson plays both Tom the bartender and John the bartender in the opera. He believes the intimacy of the venue “will make it all the more powerful.

“(T)his is, I think, a real bonus for the audience because they’re going to be right there on top of it,” he says.

“Face on the Barroom Floor” is a tragic tale – actually two tales set in different times but sadly similar. Tom the bartender at the Teller House bar in Central City, Colo., tells two patrons the old story of how the face painted on the floor of the bar came to be; and the jealous violence and tragedy it precipitated. As the story returns to the present day, history threatens to repeat itself.

Along with the unconventional confines of the physical space, the size of the cast is also on the minimalist side. Three performers will play six characters in the approximately half-hour opera. The instrumentation is also scaled back, incorporating only a piano, flute and cello.

Even so, Halverson says the show “packs a punch.”

Beyond creating a more intimate performance space, taking the opera into a bar also takes the art form down to a more grassroots level.

Hamilton says the FM Opera is “really looking for works that will let us get out of the theater” and into different places in the community.

He sees the performances as a way to expose new audiences to what the opera does.

The FM Opera performed the piece in the same venue in 2006. Hamilton says the performances sold out and the response was excellent.

“People just had a great time with it last time,” Hamilton says.

If you go

About the face in ‘Face’

There is actually a face on the floor of the bar in the Teller House – a real bar in the real town of Central City, Colo. It was, in fact, the Central City Opera House Association that commissioned the “Face on the Barroom Floor” opera in 1978. The face on the bar’s floor remains a popular tourist destination.

Some have thought that the painting is of Madeline from the poem by turn-of-the-century writer Hugh Antoine D’Arcy’s. That piece is sometimes referred to by the title “The Face the Barroom Floor.” But D’Arcy died in 1925. The image at the Teller House dates to 1936, says James Prochaska, Director of the Gilpin County Historical Society and museums.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734