The Cocktail Making a ‘Buzz’ at Opera Philadelphia

After a swarm of bees visited the Academy of Music in May, the Opera is commemorating the moment with a ‘buzzy’ signature cocktail for their Festival O23.

The “opera swarm” after being relocated to Cresheim Valley Honey in Mount Airy / Photography by Shannon Eblen

It’s a classic tale. Having accomplished much and produced many heirs, an old queen steps aside to make room for a younger, more fertile replacement. Conflict. She flies off surrounded by supporters in search of a new home. Drama. Along the way, the colony takes a break and lands on a yellow Penske truck on Locust Street, parked outside of Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, waiting to plot its next move.

It’s all very operatic, and it’s exactly what happened last May during Opera Philadelphia’s final performance of La bohème, when a swarm of 5,000 or so bees came to rest on the organization’s load-out truck.

The “opera swarm” taking a break on a Penske truck on Locust Street, parked outside of Philadelphia’s Academy of Music

As beekeeper Eric Schoefer of Cresheim Valley Honey in Mount Airy explains it, colonies of bees that have broken off from their hive will pick a temporary “bivouac site” to rest and protect their fragile queen while scouts go house hunting. No one knows exactly why, but this group of busy bees — now known as the “opera swarm” — chose La bohème’s set truck to chill out.

Shannon Eblen, Opera Philadelphia’s content director, remembers the buzz in the Academy back on May 7th. Colleagues were whispering: “Did you hear about the bees?” As the curtain rose on the 90-minute show, staff gathered outside to see the swarm.

Philly being Philly, someone knew a guy. That guy was Schoefer, Cresheim Valley Honey’s founder and a dancer/choreographer/carpenter/rigger/beekeeper who maintains about 1 million — counting is not an exact science — bees at eight apiaries through the region.

He quickly showed up and swept thousands of bees into his handmade (remember, he’s also a carpenter) “swarm boxes” and brought them home to his Mount Airy hives, where they spent the summer doing their sweet thing.

Schoefer’s dramatic rescue was caught on video and quickly became one of Opera Philadelphia’s most popular posts (second only to the Eagles fight song during last year’s Super Bowl run). It’s a mutually beneficial situation. Schoefer adds bees to his roster — and the nomadic honeybees get a safe shelter in the city’s verdant northwest section.

The Opera Buzz cocktail

Now, our city’s famously creative and boundary-pushing opera company is welcoming La bohème’s bees back into the building – sort of. Using honey from the very apiary that houses the “opera swarm,” Opera Philadelphia and Garces Events have created the Opera Buzz, a cocktail with Cresheim Valley Honey, elderflower gin, tequila and lemonade.

It’s a light drink with end-of-summer vibes, and it will be the signature cocktail of Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O23, which runs from September 21st to October 1st. You’ll find it at concession stands and bars during Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at the Academy of Music. The team is hoping to also make it available during 10 Days in a Madhouse at the Wilma and Unholy Wars at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre.