Round table creates a harmonious place for local opera lovers

Bill Holt has created a place for opera lovers to come together.

Bill Holt and his significant other, Susan Epstein, pose for a photo at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.

If you’re walking through the Moorestown Library on a Thursday night and hear the distant sounds of opera, you’re not imagining it. The tunes have lured more than one person to investigate where the music is coming from, and in doing so, they’ve stumbled upon the library’s monthly “Opera Round Table.”

At the helm of these events is Bill Holt. He’s the first to admit he doesn’t know everything there is to know about opera, but he’s fostered a small community of opera lovers who are eager to come together once a month and share their thoughts and knowledge on the subject.

Over the years, Holt has seen something along the lines of 175 operas. He grew up in Trenton and did theater growing up, but was never much of a singer. When he was in college, he took a music appreciation class where the professor skipped over opera. Confused as to why, Holt asked him, to which his professor informed him he wasn’t a fan of the genre, but if Holt felt so passionately, then he was welcome to teach that section to the class. So, Holt did just that.

Holt started going to the opera in 1960 and hasn’t stopped since. For several years, he held a subscription to the Philadelphia Opera Company (now Opera Philadelphia), and he would attend lectures and opera previews.

More recently, however, Holt and his significant other, Susan Epstein, became interested in the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, one of the premier schools in the world for training opera singers. So, they switched their subscription over there.

At the academy, Holt and Epstein see previews of upcoming operas are are able to meet the performers afterward. Through this program, they have met famous opera singers who come back to mentor, as well as singers on the rise who have gone to to perform at major venues.

Currently a Hamilton resident, Holt was frequently making his way to Moorestown to visit Epstein when he approached the Moorestown Library with his idea to host opera discussions. A friend of his had been doing similar lectures, and he thought if his friend was able to do it, then he could too.

So around five years ago, Holt got the go-ahead to host an opera night. The group started humbly with a few people in attendance and has grown to a regular following of people who come back month-after-month to discuss their shared passion.

The discussions are based around the Metropolitan Opera’s upcoming HD simulcasts. Holt views the roundtables as a means of preparing opera enthusiasts for what they’ll be watching, so he takes his preparation for each event seriously by doing hours of research on each opera. He finds audio and clips and tries to bring as much knowledge as he can to the table, but given the nature of the discussion, he finds he’s often learning just as much as he presents.

He said his attendees run the gamut. Some have seen more operas than he has, and some have never seen an opera before but heard the music in the library and were intrigued.

Epstein said while Holt is trying to give people information, it’s also a very sociable shared experience for all involved.

“People enjoy getting together with other people who share their interests,” Epstein said. “One of the members said he couldn’t find people to talk about opera with.”

Holt said anyone interested in attending doesn’t need to know a thing about opera. His sole goal for attendees is they leave in better shape to appreciate opera than when they came in and maybe just share in his passion.

“I just love opera; I sit on the edge of my seat,” Holt said.

The next Opera Round Table will take place on Thursday, March 28 at 7 p.m. in the Moorestown Library. All are welcome to attend.