Pros: It’s really good! The singing is very enjoyable, it’s funny and well-acted. I love the slide narrative – informative and humorous with a modern twist – it’s not a literal translation but enough to really get the gist of the story.
Cons: It is a little bit hammed up, but it is supposed to be. I did get wet from a water pistol at one point, which didn’t please me!
Opera has always struck me as one of those things you have to understand to appreciate; you have to study and listen to it a lot to enjoy it. After seeing the Pop-Up Opera’s production of the comic Don Pasquale in a pub in Covent Garden, I have completely changed my mind about that. I know nothing about opera, I didn’t understand most of the Italian sung, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the humour thanks to this fresh, modern take on bringing opera to a wider audience.
It’s a classic tale of lovers on the wrong side of the tracks, deception and happy endings, the details of which are very considerately laid out in the program. Don Pasquale (Raül Baglietto) an older, wealthy gentleman without an heir to his fortune, is looking for a young bride. His Nephew, Ernesto (Cliff Zammit Stevens) is in love with the impoverished, unsuitable Norina (Clementine Lovell) and Don Pasquale forbids them to marry. So the Doctor, Malatesta (Ricardo Panela), contrives a plot to disguise Norina as ‘Sofronia’ and marry her to Pasquale. Once married Norina causes trouble and drives Pasquale to divorce her, and she marries Ernesto. There are a lot of hijinks and mayhem along the way – it’s a very colourful and comedic story, fantastically narrated by a small number of descriptive slides that highlight the essence of what is taking place.
If you have read the synopsis the slides are hardly necessary thanks to the excellent acting that underpins the music. Baglietto is a gruff and surly old man, humbled and left stammering by the beautiful Norina’s antics. Baglietto stands out for me, as there is so much expression in his voice and his body language that it is easy to get a feel for what he is saying. Stevens plays a hapless, lovestruck youth with warmth and likable awkwardness. Panela brings conspiratorial pleasure to the plot, as he meddles with the hearts of Norina’s two beaus. Lovell has a lively, vibrant presence to the performance as the sole female part. To my untrained ear the singing is enjoyable and dramatically brings the characters to life. There is a lot of dynamic between the way the four performers sing and this seems to enhance the personality of the parts.
The program says that Darren Royston is the stage director, but to my mind he lynchpins the entire performance. He sets the scenes, introduces the props and set changes and provides an abundance of humour and light-hearted slapstick comedy throughout the evening as an extra on the set. His performance as the non-singing Notary is hilarious – Royston clearly has a comprehensive understanding of stage direction and comic timing and there is a glimmer of uncomplicated genius about the adaptation of the drama to the space in which it was performed.
I really enjoyed this performance and I take my hat off to Clementine Lovell for forming this company and developing this fantastic concept. The idea of taking opera into unusual settings and making it fresh and interesting has certainly been achieved in this performance. The Pop-Up Opera Company is touring the country and I recommend you catch them, particularly if you are an opera novice like me,. This is a unique and very accessible format and makes for an easy introduction for opera newbies and a refreshing change for opera lovers.
Original Composer: Gaetano Donizetti
Adapted by: Clementine Lovell and Darren Royston
Director: Darren Royston
Musical Director: James Henshaw
Booking Link: http://www.popupopera.co.uk/performances.php
Booking Until: 20th July 2013