A flash mob hit Macy’s in Center City Saturday – 650 vocalists who, unbeknownst to shoppers, had arranged to burst into song at noon.
Buyers in women’s shoes were startled.
A customer in handbags smiled as a man in line next to her opened up with the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah.
Men perusing suits tried hard to pretend nothing special was going on.
Others were so moved by the stunt they choked back tears.
“I was a little verklempt, even knowing it was coming,” said Gary Steuer, chief cultural officer for the City of Philadelphia.
The “flash opera” happening was organized by the Opera Company of Philadelphia, which started putting out coy clues on Facebook and Twitter a few days ago.
Word was sent to area choruses and churches, and by Friday 28 groups had signed up. They assembled in rehearsals Saturday morning in the Wanamaker Building’s Greek Hall, then were sent into Macy’s before noon to be girded by Peter Conte and Fred Haas in a four-hand arrangement at the mighty Wanamaker Organ.
“It was phenomenal – really unique,” said Gloria Elnitsky of Fishtown. “I’m thinking, ‘Where are those voices coming from? They’re coming from all over the place.’ ”
“It’s a great way to get music out to people, and the more acts you do when you bring music to the public, the more it might spark an interest,” said Adenike Webb, a Mount Airy member of the Philadelphia Singers chorale and one of the volunteer stealth singers.
The Opera Company is preparing a video of the seemingly spontaneous “Hallelujah Chorus” and plans to post it on YouTube by late Monday.
“This isn’t about audience development per se. It isn’t about harnessing new technology per se. They are collateral benefits,” said the Opera Company’s executive director, David B. Devan. “What is at the heart of this is bringing joy into people’s lives with the widest platform possible.”
(Devan artfully acknowledged that the iconic chorus from Handel’s oratorio, composed in 1741, isn’t opera: “Although opera is at the core of what we do, there are some soft edges around that.”)
The Messiah at Macy’s was the encore to an ambush the Opera Company staged at the Reading Terminal Market in April. Singers dressed like any other Saturday morning cantaloupe thumper fanned out across the selling floor and, on cue, broke into the “Brindisi” from La Traviata.