Deep-fried opera in three acts, with peas

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL PRESTAGE

The future of a new Cardiff opera house may still hang in the balance, but music lovers can now hear their favourite arias sung by the Welsh National Opera just a few hundred yards away from the proposed site of the new building - in a fish and chip shop.

Now in their fourth week, the opera-and-chips evenings are proving a resounding success, with 200 people reserving tables for a meal in three acts, featuring an ensemble of haddock, chips and mushy peas, with an encore of bread and butter pudding. They pay under pounds 10 for their food and a two-hour performance.

Yesterday the opera house's supporters unveiled a fresh bid to win lottery funding from the Millennium Commission for the pounds 86m venue. Trustees will submit a revamped design by the Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid to the commission, which turned down the original Cardiff Bay Opera House application last December. Miss Hadid's latest design for the controversial building includes a Welsh heritage museum.

Meanwhile, the opera and chips evenings continue to attract a combination of local people who come for the fish and chips and take in the songs, and genuine opera-lovers attracted by the music itself. When harsh weather forced 33 cancellations on Monday, the empty tables were quickly snapped up.

The brisk trade in champagne and the sartorial elegance of the customers dispels any notion that the clientele has recently turned out of some of the less than salubrious hostelries that still abound in Cardiff Bay, despite its gentrification.

Monday evening's repertoire, performed by four singers, started with "La donna e mobile" from Rigoletto, followed by an extract from the Marriage of Figaro and worked through a selection of well-known favourites before taking in hit songs from musicals. The emphasis is on popular pieces, to try to please everybody.

Ken Williams was with a party of family and friends and is a regular opera-goer. He is also a regular for fish and chips at the Harry Ramsden's restaurant. "This has been a marvellous excuse for a night out. I think opera in a fish and chip shop helps break down stereotypes."

The baritone James Miller-Coburn was singing at an opera evening for the first time. "It's not the first time I've sung in a fish and chip shop," he admitted, "but it's the first time I've sung in one sober."

George Osztreicher, who holds the franchise with a partner, is a keen opera fan. He approached Welsh National Opera, and they were keen to take up the offer.

"While they are trying to scratch pounds 86m together for an opera house, I thought they might as well have a little sing-song here," he said.

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