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Opera Peep Show is the brainchild of Lindsay Michael and Francesca Perez, whose opera company, Liederwolfe, is one of the four organizations presenting performances at Peep Show.Marilis Cardinal

It won't be your typical night at the opera. No glittering lobby entrances. No opulent gowns or ill-fitting tuxes (unless you choose). Instead, you enter the lobby of a converted residence – Campbell House Museum on Queen Street West in downtown Toronto. First place you're shown to – the bar in the basement. There's a party going on – music playing, drinks aplenty, lots of people. Then you notice that with your entrance ticket, you have been presented a key – a key to one of the upstairs rooms in the house. When you choose, you wander upstairs, turn the key and enter the room.

What greets you there is opera. Maybe a scene from La Bohème; maybe a contemporary setting, maybe something from Shakespeare's time, maybe a performance piece. After the scene is over, you head back to the bar, and concierges explain what you've just seen, what else is available in the other rooms. If you like, you can stay in the bar for the rest of the night. Maybe you buy a key for one of the other three rooms upstairs to witness other scenes. Your choice. Your experience. Your evening.

Welcome to Opera Peep Show, a populist approach to an elitist art, which will be presented in Campbell House Museum on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Opera Peep Show is the brainchild of Lindsay Michael and Francesca Perez, whose opera company, Liederwolfe, is one of the four organizations presenting performances at Peep Show.

Opera Peep Show has it origins in Montreal, when Michael and Perez met as students at McGill University more than 10 years ago, and created Liederwolfe, a company that became famous in Montreal's then thriving indie rock scene. Famous for presenting opera in bars.

"When I was studying at McGill," says the ebullient and energetic Michael, "none of my friends outside of music would dream of coming to an opera. Who could blame them? They were going to clubs, to rock concerts. But when I started to study the history of opera, I realized they were originally amazing affairs – there was drinking and gambling, all this excitement , all this fun – in fact, the very same sort of energy you find in a rock concert."

So Michael and Perez headed to the clubs. "We created a show and pretended it was going to be a rock concert. Booked a rock venue and advertised it as an indie rock show. Made up the name Liederwolfe. Everyone in the Montreal scene was curious and it was packed. And then people came on stage and sang opera. People freaked out – it was a real happening – it was great. People were yelling, people walked out – but some people stayed. They brought their friends the next time. And they stayed with us and became our core audience for eight years."

Michael remembers that she sang the crazily difficult Queen of the Night aria from Mozart's Magic Flute that night. "What was fun was – no one knew the rules, so that when we hit the high notes, everyone was yelling and cheering – during the aria. Just as they used to in the early days of opera. And when we talked to people afterward – first-time opera-goers – they were overwhelmed by the power of the human voice – they had no idea what a trained voice could sound like. And they liked being so close to the singers, to feel the performance first-hand. And so we wanted to take those two elements and make them more intense. And bring in a new audience."

Michael and Perez are aware of all the risks attendant on their new undertaking, Opera Peep Show. They're not as tied into the Toronto scene, so can't depend on a community of musicians to support their endeavour. Renting the facility, hiring the three other companies to perform and managing their own input are real challenges for them. But they believe in what they're doing, and know what they're trying to achieve. It's not necessarily to convince Opera Peep Show customers to immediately buy a ticket to a Canadian Opera Company production, although some might. But, for Michael and Perez, it's more to recover the grandeur and power of opera itself.

Liederwolfe is not alone. A host of indie opera companies is sprouting up all over North America, all dedicated to the same proposition – that there's something in the essence of the art form that's worth preserving and exploiting in a way that's completely different from the conventional experience of expensive, mainstream opera houses. Entry to Opera Peep Show is $20, which covers admission, one drink and one of the four opera rooms.

"I won't lie," says Michael, "when we started, I just wanted to sing in front of an audience. But I was really shocked by how people reacted to the power of the human voice. How they sought it out. Opera is important because it touches a lot of emotions and has an artistic range that a lot of other music doesn't. It's too precious to lose. And too valuable not to try and bring to everyone."

Opera Peep Show runs April 28 to 30 at Campbell House Museum in Toronto (