Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday Special: Viva il vino spumeggiante

Opera cocktail
I subscribe to John Keats' belief that a recipe for a perfect summer's idyll involves "books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." And there's something about the long, languorous evenings of early summer that tempts me to ponder cocktail recipes. It's a matter of puzzlement to me that this is an area where opera has made fewer cultural inroads, it would seem, than in that of food. We have opera cake, we have pêches Melba, tournedos Rossini, etc. etc. So why not cocktails, when so many opera characters, in so many situations, invite everyone to drink? I first discovered this dearth when the Beloved Flatmate and I were planning a party, and several years on, the situation seems to be fundamentally unchanged.

A few opera houses, at least, have embraced the idea of opera-inspired tippling. The Met has several themed drinks on their menu; "Lulu's Disposable Lover" might be my new favorite cocktail name. Seattle Opera also commissioned a series of themed drink/food pairings, of which my favorite is the Carmen cocktail, with vodka, cointreau, and champagne. (The Attila sounds appropriately dangerous.) Beyond this, I have found several delights, but fewer than I expected.

Among the riches bestowed on the world by 1920s Paris is, apparently, this gin-based opera cocktail, which sounds remarkably decadent, and also like something I would drink. Fellow opera aficionado Bob Kingston contributed the idea of a Eugene Onegin: 1.5 oz cranberry vodka, 1.5 tsp Cointreau, 2 oz fresh blood orange juice, 2 lemon twists for garnish. Fill shaker with cracked ice. Add vodka, Cointreau, and juice. Pour into a sugar-rimmed martini glass. (I've made this with regular vodka and a mixture of cranberry and orange juice.)

Otherwise... we are left with renaming things. Make a Sazerac and call it Porgy & Bess; rechristen your Old Fashioneds after Papa Germont. If you're having brunch, serve Bellinis and Turn-of-the-Screwdrivers. Shakespeare-themed cocktails, like Othello's green-eyed monster, could always be served with the operas they inspired. But this feels a little like cheating, and also like ignoring the Verdian spin on the bard's plots.

So, Gentle Readers, here is where I entreat you: what opera-themed cocktails do you know, or might you devise? Have you ever bought a bottle of wine for its opera-related label? If so, what was the result? I recently bought this rosé because it was christened after the insouciant Manon, and was not disappointed.


  1. I'm sorry no one gave you a cocktail. I'm afraid I drink all my booze straight.

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