Pros: This is opera as you have never seen or imagined it. Along with the operatics it is fun and interactive. Moreover it contained a moment which was my reviewing highlight of the year so far.
Cons: The plot was a bit of a joke, however it was played like one too.
The only thing I know about opera is that the fat lady sings at the end. In Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore she didn’t. My editors didn’t warn me that this would be in Italian. Mine runs to ‘Arrivederci’. So be advised that I’m not the best qualified for reviewing an Italian opera. Pop-Up Opera are… a pop-up opera company. Formed in 2011 by Clementine Lovell they have been popping up in all kinds of unusual places, including a 100ft underground cavern. They did light candles in it. Tonight they are in Blacks, a private members club in Soho in a small upstairs room. I squeeze into a window seat.
Warming up for both acts is the incomparable, uncontainable, and irrepressible Darren Royston. He conducts some of the audience playing tea cups. Then he has us all singing ‘amoreeeeree’. Up and down. I sound like a cat having a tussle with a fox. Later on there is an improvisation with tea strainers and a washing up bowl.
In the performance the audience interaction continues with Adina flirting with the men. This is to make Nemorino jealous. Then the cast lead one bloke outside in the guise of a notary for a wedding. Better still is when Nemorino distributes tissues amongst us for his sad song. He is absolutely heart-breaking. We are forced to call in further supplies. In all seriousness, Nemorino’s sad song is filled with the most tremendous pathos.
My lack of Italian is made up for by big and expressive Italian gestures. Another form of sign language comes in the facial contortions. Muscles are used that I never knew existed. At times the slapstick is reminiscent of a silent movie from the twenties. Indeed my favourite moment of the evening – and in fact my theatre highlight of 2013 so far – comes with Nemorino running around looking for the doctor, Dulcamara. Throwing open a window over 67 Dean Street, Soho, he sings his lungs out. Not a few of those passing by are startled. Never mind that Japanese tourist.
The fact I haven’t mentioned the plot yet is not due to the Italian Challenge; the programme contains a synopsis. It’s more due to the fact that it’s pretty much an irrelevance. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy’s love is not requited. Girl meets other boy. Other boy is bad. Girl gets engaged to bad boy. And on it goes through some shenanigans involving love potions, phallic carrots, sudden supposed inheritances, a priapic statuette, before the waitress, Gianetta, gets in on the action. If this sounds dismissive it is. However I am not being unkind; the plot is just an excuse for some wonderfully melodramatic acting, and some spine-tingling singing.
Since L’elisir a’amore is an opera I’d better have a go at the music. According to my programme there were two Baritones, two Sopranos, and one Tenor. Whether this is a good combination or not I have no idea. When they all went at it together they sounded harmonious to me. When they were pouring out their own souls I would say they were pitch perfect. (A couple of dedicated opera reviewers were in the audience so I am sticking my neck out a long way there). Ricardo Panelo, as the businessman Belcore brought hints of darkness and menace. Clementine Lovell, as Adina, trilled like a nightingale. Whilst Cliff Zammit, as Nemorino, cleared the wax out of both my ears.
Pop-Up Opera aim to take opera out to the ‘hesitant, as well as to dedicated opera lovers’. I confess to having been hesitant, but I’m suddenly in danger of becoming dedicated.
Composer: Gaetano Donizetti
Director: Darren Royston
Musical Director: James Henshaw
Booking Link: http://www.popupopera.co.uk/performances.php.
Booking Until: 24th April 2013