You’ve heard of undercover agents, undercover reporters and even undercover bosses. But what about undercover entertainment?
It’s something that tickles the fancy of brides and grooms looking to plan a reception that’s big on wow factor. And a touch of cloak and dagger – and audience interaction – just makes it all the more exciting and fun.
Singers for Hire Australia founding partner Mario Lasagne (no, that not’s his real name) says undercover entertainment is perfect for couples looking to turn their reception into an event and an experience as much as a celebration.
It builds on the popularity of singing waiters, who perform everything from jazz and cabaret to ABBA and even a Grease medley. But it also adds an extra touch of class through the inclusion of beautiful opera songs. And he stresses it’s far from the hoity toity concept people might imagine.
“I know the word opera is one that can put people off, but often that’s because their image is of a larger woman wearing horns and singing loud screechy songs. But that’s not what opera is,” says Mario, who works with performers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
“It’s a beautiful art form and one that people love when they are exposed to it.”
He says part of the issue is cultural.
“Australia is very different to Europe, because people there are exposed to classical and opera singing a lot more,” he says.
“So what you find here is that no one would ever generally think ‘Oh I’m getting married, I want an opera singer at my reception’.” But it’s actually the perfect accompaniment to such a momentous occasion.”
The trick, then, is to present it in an accessible style, with some wow factor and some fun factor. Which is exactly the point of undercover entertainment, which involves classically trained singers disguising themselves as chefs and event staff before bursting into a beautiful aria at just the right time.
“It’s a lot of fun to pull off,” says Mario, explaining how the concept goes down.
While budget-flexible available options range from one to three performers, the standard make-up is a duo, including a ‘manager’ who is fully briefed on everything from table seatings to where people can hang their coats to ensure an authentic performance. But the real anchor of the show is undoubtedly the ‘chef’, who goes by a food-pun themed name, such as Juan Paella, Vilia Parmigiana or Roberta Ravioli.
“After the second or main course at the reception, the chef comes in and gets everyone’s attention with the mike,” Mario says. “In a big Italian accent they thank everyone for coming, thank the bride and groom and then break into a little song. But it’s not great to start with, so you get people saying ‘Oh my god, that’s terrible’. But it’s deliberate, because if everyone’s not paying attention at the start, they are by the end of the song, about 30 seconds, which is when the ‘chef’ starts an operatic high note and holds it until everyone bursts into applause.” Everything goes from there.
Mario, a singer himself who discovered the concept overseas and brought it back to Australia, says the cloak and dagger nature of undercover entertainment adds an element of surprise that might otherwise be lacking in a reception.
It also taps into a wider desire on the part of brides and grooms to add a touch of sophistication that takes the event beyond just dinner and dancing to dinner and a floorshow.
“More and more couples are looking beyond a DJ to offer a genuine piece of entertainment.” But that can be a real balancing act, says Mario, whose artists also perform everything from ceremonies and guitar duos to musical tributes.
For starters, guests at a wedding can range in age from 10 years old to 90, all of them with different tastes and demographics.
“For example, they might decide to have an R&B singer, but then find their friends will love it while their parents won’t,” he says. So the trick is to try and cater to everyone, which is why a blend of say half opera and half more modern songs – depending on what the couple wants – can strike just the right balance.”
Mario says a perfect program incorporates a mix of the known and the new. For example, The Prayer, which was popularised by Anthony Callea on Australian Idol, is a beautiful song to dedicate to the bride and groom, while La Donna e Imobile, a more upbeat number better known as Leggo’s Al Dentico song, can get people dancing in their seat and waving their napkins.
O Sole Mio is always beautiful, Nessun Dorma is spectacular and something from Carmen is always guaranteed to grab the whole crowd’s attention when performed in a suitable sultry fashion.
“Once people see the opera, they go ‘wow, that’s amazing,” he says. “And it’s because of the quality of our singers. All of them work at the Sydney Opera House, so one night they’ll be singing the lead role there and the next they’ll be singing at a wedding for us.”
Their voices also lend themselves to more modern tunes. Mario says That’s Amore is a real crowd favourite, as is Big Spender – done in tribute to the bride and groom’s fathers – or even ABBA or the Grease medley. “Then we’ll do something like Just The Way You Are, mashing up the versions by Billy Joel and Bruno Mars,” he says.
Not surprisingly, the musical show – which is heavy on comedy, banter and audience interactivity – can also serve as a terrific icebreaker.
“What you might find at a reception is that you have people sitting at tables who don’t know each other,” Mario says. “And because of that they mightn’t have much to converse on beyond the standard of how they know the bride and groom.
“But, once we do our thing, a whole world of conversation opens up; they have something to talk about, whether it’s a compliment along the lines of ‘wow, that was sensational’ or even something a little funny like ‘I complained to that woman about my meal not being hot enough and now she’s singing. I feel so embarrassed’.” It really is a conversation gift, and one that builds a shared enjoyment.
Mario says it’s also a concept that can have lingering effects, getting people excited about opera – not just that night, but moving forward.
“There’s no doubt about it; because people do get touched,” he says. “Especially when it’s presented in an interactive style.
“Just because you didn’t see it at the Sydney Opera House doesn’t mean it’s not for you.”