Pop-Up Opera was formed by Clementine Lovell in 2011. Realising that opera was generally viewed as a somewhat high-brow form of entertainment, she created the light-hearted touring company in an attempt to broaden its reach and general appeal without compromising the quality of the music.
By this criteria, L’Italiana In Algeri is a resounding success. The story has been transposed from Algiers to a casino in Las Vegas called, unsurprisingly, The Algiers. The owner of the casino, the sleazy Mustafa, is becoming bored with his aging wife, Elvira, and resolves to marry her off to his employee, Lindoro.
This leaves a vacancy for a top showgirl which Isabella, Lindoro’s childhood sweetheart, is determined to fill – but what is her secret agenda? There is no point in attempting to explain the plot any further, since in true operatic tradition it begins implausibly and becomes ever more lunatic as the action progresses. Suffice it to say that it is jam packed with action, comedy and resounding tunes and the cast all appear to be having a marvellous time. The plot-line differs slightly from Rossini’s original story, but the new version is so entertaining that I dare say he would approve.
There is no need to worry about the linguistic barrier; the programme helpfully contains a little Italian-English glossary and Harry Percival’s silent-movie style captions projected on the wall pithily, if laconically, summarise the key points of the plot.
The set is simple and spartan, as befits a performance taking place in the bowels of a tunnel shaft. A couple of clothing rails serve for costume changes and also provide handy hiding places. Spinning roulette wheels and important documents are projected onto the concrete wall at the back. The action takes place in front of, between and around the audience, which occasionally involves some neck-craning as we attempt to see what is happening behind us and keep an eye on the captions on the wall at the same time, but which serves to make the experience feel immersive and immediate. The atmosphere is warm and informal, but there is no denying the quality of the performances.
The cast performs in rotation; on the night that I attended both Helen Stanley and Oliver Brignall gave stand-out performances, but the calibre overall was simply excellent. Musical Director Berrack Dyer achieved marvellous things considering the limited resources available; we were neither deafened nor straining to hear and there was a surprising richness to the music, considering it was provided entirely by a keyboard.
For those who are already opera aficionados, Pop-Up Opera provides a refreshingly original and unpretentious experience. For those who are dipping their toes into the world of opera for the first time, this is an easy, fun and unintimidating introduction. This may be Opera-Lite, but it still packs a decent punch.
Review by Genni Trickett
Stage Director James Hurley
Musical Director Berrak Dyer
Producers Clementine Lovell & Fiona Johnston
Captions Harry Percival
Mustafa Bruno Loxton
Isabella Helen Stanley
Lindoro Oliver Brignall
Elvira Catrin Woodruff
Zulma Amy J Payne
Taddeo Oskar McCarthy
Pianist Berrak Dyer
Wednesday 17th June 2015