A Miami Beach nightclub is transformed into Hell for the Florida Grand Opera performances of “No Exit,” part of the company’s “Unexpected Operas in Unexpected Places” project. Submitted photo.

The only proper place to enjoy opera is in a stuffy concert hall, surrounded by blue-haired grand dames and old men in stiff collared penguin suits. Not anymore.

Florida Grand Opera is determined to turn the stereotypical notions of opera on their head with “Unexpected Operas in Unexpected Places,” an annual series that includes performances of Andy Vores’ one act opera, “No Exit,” Feb. 27 – March 1 in a Miami Beach bar, of all places.

“No Exit” is about three damned souls who are condemned to spend all of eternity together in a room with no exits, a place they eventually discover is hell, an adaptation of existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s celebrated play of the same name.

As the chamber opera begins, three damned souls, Garcin, Inez, and Estelle, are brought to the same room and locked inside by a mysterious valet. They had all expected torture devices to punish them for eternity, but instead find a plain room and soon realize that they have been placed together to make each other miserable. They soon discover that Inez is attracted to Estelle, Estelle is attracted to Garcin and Garcin is in no mood for either woman.

Garcin finally begins giving in to Estelle's seduction, which drives Inez crazy. Inez tells him that Estelle is just pretending to be attracted to him so that she can be with a man — any man. This upsets Garcin and he abruptly tries to escape by trying to open the door. After several attempts, it surprisingly opens. However, Garcin is unable to bring himself to leave and he and the two women ultimately decide to stay. Garcin concludes that rather than torture devices or physical punishment, "hell is other people."

According to the composer, the opera is “both rich and empty at the same time – and that gave me the chance to make some tight and grizzly musical statements along with sections of dark, acid humor, and others of loss and sadness; a very varied journey in a short span of time.”

In this opera, there is no “fat lady” in a metal breastplate and horned helmet to belt out imperious arias. “No Exit” features three young members of FGO’s Young Artist Program, mezzo-soprano Caitlin McKechney (Inez), tenor Casey Finnigan (Garcin) and soprano Riley Svatos (Estelle).

Finnegan commented about the opera, “(“No Exit”) starts as an almost satirical romp through Hell; and quickly degrades into raw, visceral, animal theater. It's a dark comedy with an emphasis on dark; the kind of piece where the audience is practically forced to walk away with an almost Shakespearean sense of relief about their own personal lives.  It's a grungy look at human interaction, and an insight into the mind of the sociopathic.  But most of all, it's a spectacular piece of theater not to be missed.”

Added Svatos, “Nothing about "No Exit" is really traditional, and the venue is really off-the-wall for what the general public has come to expect from operatic performances. But however unexpected the location, it works perfectly for this piece. The lighting capabilities at (the club) are fantastic, and it's going to be an encompassing experience with audience members on all sides. Not to mention it's the kind of place Estelle, with her luxurious tastes, would have frequented in life—very modern and hip. Come, have a shot, perhaps a flaming one, and join us in hell for an evening.” 

If You Go

What: “No Exit” by Andy Vores
Florida Grand Opera “Opera in Unexpected Places”
When: Thursday, Feb. 27 – Saturday, March 1, 10 p.m.
Where: Arena (formerly NoWhere Lounge)
653 Washington Ave., Miami Beach
Cost: Tickets $25 at FGO.org (No one under 21 will be admitted.)