Philadelphia will see the American premiere of a new comic opera this week. But it won't be at the Academy of Music, nor the Kimmel Center. It will be in an underground food court.

The opera is called "The Shops" -- a send-up of consumerism, material obsession and kleptomania. The Center City Opera Theater thought there would be no better place to stage it than the basement of the Comcast Building, where there are stores and fast-food booths.

In many respects, it's the worst place to stage an opera. The harsh overhead lighting casts unflattering shadows on everyone's face, and the ceiling tiles are designed to absorb voices, not enhance them.

"We just have to project a lot, and our diction has to be that much better," says singer Monica Pasquini. "We have to pronounce our consonants twice as much as we normally would, so that the audience can understand."

Tricky acoustics, fluorescent lights and untested material could equal a perfectly disastrous storm. But to director Alberto Innaurato, this is what opera needs. Some 1,500 people pass through the food court every day; most have never heard live opera before. In addition, staging a new opera helps establish a modern repertoire.

"We think it's a good thing, both for Center City Opera Theater and opera in America, if we can be grandiose," Innaurato said. "It's our small contribution to the survival of this art form going forward.

Center City Opera Theater will publicly rehearse "The Shops" in the shops all week. Performances begin Friday in front of the deli case.