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Pop-Up Opera’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia – Review

Pop-Up Opera Summer 2016, Il Barbiere di Siviglia (courtesy Richard Lakos)
Pop-Up Opera Summer 2016, Il Barbiere di Siviglia (courtesy Richard Lakos)

Popup Opera returned to the hidden shaft under the Thames to perform to their devoted audience, and curious opera newbies, Rossini’s cheeky and playful opera The Barber of Seville (Il Barbiere Di Siviglia). Popularly known for Figaro’s aria Largo al factotum, or ‘Figaro here, Figaro there’ as many would recognize it, it is (in my opinion) one of the best operas to introduce anyone unacquainted with opera, and Popup Opera’s minimalistic yet musically-charged production is a prime example, of exactly that.

The story itself is a farce. The romantic Count Almaviva disguises himself as lowly, casual fella Lindoro so he can conceal his rank to the one he loves Rosina, in his attempt to woe her. Yet grumpy Bartolo has other plans to marry her before anyone else does.

The town’s famous barber Figaro, in his bright red Adidas track suit, comes to the rescue to assist the Count until the bitter end in love’s plight (in this case, it’s not a ladder but two plastic chairs that gets him there). Yet things aren’t so easy, and this is where Popup Opera, including Harry Percival, do their magic and play about with the surtitles.

Rossini’s Italian opera, that was first performed in 1816, has lighthearted, breathtaking music that is vigorously played by Berrak Dyer on the piano, and she also has a part in the production, interacting with the cast like breaking the fourth wall. In a similar way, the surtitles also break the wall and becomes a vitally unique feature here, spending less time translating the libretto and speaking out to its audience. Emojis, speech bubbles, photographs and side captions jump out, which causes a rupture of fun-filled giggles and smiles in the Tunnel Shaft.

As Leif Jone Ølberg impresses and triumphantly sings to Figaro’s entry aria, the surtitles doesn’t bother providing a word for word direct translation, but reads, ‘what is factotum?’ It’s a clever way that director, James Hurley gets the audience to pay attention to the performance in front of them, as well as the memorable music.

Tenor Ciarán O’Leary sings with a superb voice that is high-toned and ideal for anyone looking to be serenaded. His impersonation of a drunken soldier is entertaining and made some audiences nervous where he could have taken them out with a can of beer. Alistair Ollerenshaw is tremendously poised with vocal vigour – he seemed to be a pro performing as the moody and cranky Bartolo.

Sassy Rosina is neatly pulled off by Katie Slater. She presents a quick-witted and keen-eyed heroine with fluid vocals. Tom Asher caused a raucous as Basilio, Rosina’s singing teacher, that whilst he was bribed by the Count to pretend he was sick, he was able to make the sound of puke turn into song (you had to be there to see it!) And although Emily Blanch has a small role as the flustered housekeeper, she keeps it up and made us, the audience, feel for her laborious walks up and down the metal stairwell to attend to guests.

It is another successful production for Popup Opera. Their fan base is rapidly increasing; I could tell by the full house on the night I attended. Committed to their mission in enticing audiences to opera in an innovative way, Popup Opera’s productions continue to deliver on quality and freshness.

5 Star Rating

Review by Mary Nguyen

After performing their first ever tragedy this Spring, Pop-Up Opera return to comedy for their Summer Season 2016. Pop-Up Opera challenge the way opera is traditionally performed, by taking it into unusual spaces and making it fun, fresh and intimate. Rossini’s famous opera buffa Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) is brought to life by the critically acclaimed company, sung in Italian with English captions.

Pop-Up Opera take to the stage with this incredibly fast-paced comical farce in their adaptation of this much-loved score. Witness razor-sharp timing as the ever-resourceful barber, Figaro, tries to help the young Count Almaviva win the hand of the beautiful Rosina out of love rather than for his wealth. Soon the pair set about to produce many disguises for the count, and thus the farce ensues…!

Rossini’s sparkling comic opera is given a ‘make-under’ in James Hurley’s daringly unfussy staging, laying bare the characters in all their glorious eccentricity.

Pop-up Opera will be touring to some new and exciting venues this season Leeds Castle, the Spirella Ballroom at Letchworth (the building used to be the Spirella Corset Factory in Victoria era!) and Broome Farm (where Pop-Up Opera began).

Company Director Clementine Lovell comments, This is exciting for us as it really embraces the kind of spaces we go to and the nature of what we do. The opera is so well known, and this will be a wholly different way of approaching it. We can never rely on a set or fancy props and costumes to carry our productions, so it forces us to be creative and to really pay attention to the drama and conveying the story in a totally engaging way.

A two-hour explosion of beautiful music, top-class singing, and exceptional acting… I honestly cannot imagine anyone, of any age or class or tastes, who would have been bored or unmoved The combination of amazing venues, along with an informal atmosphere and engaging productions, offers a greater connection to the singers and the music, something even seasoned opera-goers often miss. If Pop-up Opera pops up near you, do pop in.

Stage Director James Hurley
Musical Director Berrak Dyer
Producers Kate McStraw, Fiona Johnston and Clementine Lovell
Captions Harry Percival and Tim Cape
Rosina Flora McIntosh / Katie Slater
Almaviva Ciarán O’Leary / Joseph Doody
Bartolo Alistair Ollerenshaw / James Schouten
Figaro Leif Jone Ølberg / Thomas Stoddart
Basilio Steven East / Tom Asher
Berta Emily Blanch
Pianist Berrak Dyer

Running time 2 hours plus interval
Website www.popupopera.co.uk
Twitter @PopupOperaUK

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