Opera was born in Italy, but Lee Hoiby‘s Bon Appétit! proves the art form works deliciously for a story that’s all-American … by way of France.

Mezzo-soprano Susan Nicely returns to Charlotte to play the beloved real-life character she’s played before – Julia Child. Child famously introduced Americans to French cooking (and the joys of real butter and heavy cream) through her iconic cookbooks and Emmy Award-winning TV show. Bon Appétit!, based on two actual episodes of the show, is designed to be performed in a kitchen. In fact, it must be. The actress playing Child is required to bake and ice a chocolate cake during the performance.

Both performances of the opera, sung in English, will take place in the Johnson & Wales Demonstration Kitchen at 801 W. Trade St. in uptown Charlotte. “Johnson & Wales has been a terrific partner,” said James Meena, general director & principal conductor. “We can’t imagine a better setting for an opera about Julia Child than a kitchen where great chefs of the future are trained.”

The libretto, taken from Child’s TV series from the 1970s, was crafted by Mark Shulgasser, Hoiby’s life partner and collaborator. They originally wrote the singular role for Jean Stapleton, best known as Edith Bunker on All in the Family. The comic operetta premiered at the Kennedy Center in 1989.

Nicely has said that, in spite of the fidelity to Child’s words, the operetta takes some liberties for comic effect. For instance, Child was known to enjoy a glass of wine while cooking and even during the filming of her show. But in Bon Appétit!, she drinks a little too much during the commercial break.

“The real Julia Child wouldn’t have done that, but it makes for laugh-out loud moments in the opera,” said Megan Miller, Opera Carolina’s director of marketing.

Bon Appétit! is Opera Carolina’s latest foray beyond the Belk Theater. “We’ve been getting out into the community a lot in the past several years,” continued Miller. “You almost never know where we’ll turn up – at churches, at a brewery, at a mall and now in a kitchen. Our efforts are paying off, as we introduce more and more people to the joy – and, in some cases, silliness – of opera.”

Nicely has performed the Child role in Atlanta, Dallas and Santa Barbara, CA. Charlotte audiences may recall her from her role as Juliet’s nurse in Romeo & Juliet in January 2016.

Seating is limited. All tickets are general admission and available for $25, inclusive of taxes and fees, at carolinatix.org. (Johnson & Wales faculty and staff can purchase tickets at a discount.) Performances are Wednesday, Feb. 22 and Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. Call 704-332-7177 ext. 113 for details.

Opera Carolina’s 2016/17 season opened with Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (Oct. 22, 27 and 30), a madcap romp involving false identities and a busybody, matchmaking barber. The slapstick opera is so embedded in pop culture, it’s been lampooned by Bugs Bunny.

Next up on Jan. 22, 26 and 28 is La traviata, Verdi’s timeless story of a love that’s forbidden because of class differences. (And doomed because the heroine is dying of consumption.)

The season ends with an operatic take on a Western. In The Girl of the West (La fanciulla del West), Puccini gives an American twist to the Italian art form. It’s as if HighNoon had been set to soaring music. The good time happens April 23, 27 and 29.

All Grand Opera performances are at the Belk Theater, North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Two-show subscriptions are available by calling 704.332.7177, ext. 202. Single tickets (as low as $21 each) for all three operas are on sale through the Performing Arts Center Box Office at 704.372.1000 or via operacarolina.org.

About Opera Carolina

Founded in 1948 by the Charlotte Music Club as a small group of volunteers, today Opera Carolina is the largest professional opera company in the Carolinas with an operating budget of more than $3.2 million for the fiscal year 2017.

The mission of Opera Carolina is to inspire the region’s diverse community through the presentation of Opera and Education programs that elevate the quality of life in the Carolinas. Opera Carolina has a commitment to artistic excellence and community service.

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