Ernesto is in love with the beautiful but penniless Norina. Ernesto's uncle, Don Pasquale, a wealthy landowner, opposes the match and chooses a more suitable girl for Ernesto to marry. Ernesto refuses; the Don decides he will cut Ernesto out of his will, and plans to marry to produce sons. Ernesto enlists the help of his uncle's doctor, Malatesta (Doctor Headache), to dupe the Don into allowing Ernesto to marry Norina. Malatesta presents to the Don his demure 'sister' Sofronia, apparently a shy novice from the convent. She is really Norina in disguise. Pasquale is enchanted; they are marry in a fake ceremony. The ceremony over, 'Sofronia' becomes a complete shrew. She turns the Don's life upside down, spends his money, demands to be waited on hand and foot. Completely miserable, Don Pasquale is so relieved when the plot is revealed, that he consents to the marriage of Norina and Ernesto.
...a performance of Don Pasquale that fulfilled its aim of making opera enjoyable and inviting, without diminishing the quality of the music.
On a minuscule stage furnished with little more than a table and chairs, the director Darren Royston reduced the story of Donizetti's opera to its bare bones without sacrificing any of its musical gems and filled in several linking cameo roles-just falling short of the outrageous-to embellish the updated action, tide over a hitch in the titles, and insert a few entertaining explanations to the uninitiated.
His cast of four, all well established in the first decade of their careers, embraced as many different nationalities and was headed by Clementine Lovell (also the founder of the company) as a stylish Norina, who, projecting the Italian words in a vibrant soprano, offered a sharp characterization of the wilful heroine. The scheming Dr Malatesta was roundly portrayed and sung by the personable Portuguese baritone Ricardo Panela; the Spanish bass-baritone Raul Baglietto offered well-nourished singing in his touching portrayal of the ill-used Don Pasquale; and they teamed up to rousing effect in their patter duet.
A miraculous combination of staying honest to the beauty of the work, having fun with opera and using the venue to keep it alive, PopUp Opera is a company to follow avidly
Wedged in the centre of South London’s residential Rotherhithe sits an old brick tunnel shaft. Like an iceberg, only its wrought iron tip protrudes above the surface. Stretching sixty feet underground is a vast cavernous space, dimly lit with an orange street-lamp glow, with metal scaffold steps descending to its concrete bottom. The only way into the shaft is through a tiny trap door in its side, which involves bending the body almost in half and crawling along a low, dusty passage.
I’m not setting the scene for an obscure theme park ride. Instead, on a damp Saturday afternoon in May, the shaft (the original entrance to Marc and Isambard Brunel’s famous tunnel under the Thames) undertook the unlikely transformation into an underground opera house, thanks to the arrival of tiny travelling production company PopUp Opera. With its unique attribute for performing opera in weird and wonderful locations, the six-person cast and crew have been touring Donizetti’s charming comic opera Don Pasquale around the country, venturing into south London for their penultimate performance. And since this particular opera and the tunnel shaft were created within twenty years of one another (towards the beginning of the nineteenth century), I’m not sure they could have chosen a better spot in which to pop up.
A light-hearted spoof of marriage in old age, Don Pasquale circles around four central characters. Norina and Ernesto are hopelessly in love, but their being together is prevented by Ernesto’s embittered single uncle, Don Pasquale. Without his blessing their prospects are bleak, since neither has a penny while Pasquale has a fair few. With the help of local Doctor Malatesta, however, Norina and Ernesto manage to pull a prank on Pasquale that leads to an eventual moral triumph for the pair and a rather downtrodden uncle.
Wonderfully in keeping with the jovial tone of the opera (whose moral is “a man who marries in old age is asking for trouble”), PopUp’s production was vibrant, fun, and wildly unpretentious. Satirical but not mocking, the singers perfectly illustrated the opera’s story on their make-shift stage with outstanding singing, compassionate acting, imaginative props, facial expressions, comedy and gentle audience involvement, recreating the fantastic sense of communal enjoyment that Italian opera is all about. And they deserve the biggest applaud for sticking to their guns and singing in Italian. With only a few brief captions projected onto the wall behind, which summarised the action without word-for-word translation, we understood everything. It just goes to prove that opera doesn’t need to be translated to be accessible; a good performance and the emotional power of music can suffice.
Clementine Lovell (multi-tasking company director, producer and leading lady) shone with seamless soprano vocals, capturing the essence of Norina’s character and attaching it to a contemporary Kate Middleton wannabe. Raúl Baglietto, Ricardo Panela and Cliff Zammit Stevens were all sensational as her male entourage, and stealing the show in a small but vital role was director and comedian extraordinaire Darren Royston. Like the hilarious relative every family needs, he provided a mid-way point between the audience and the opera, gently poking fun at everything and everyone and keeping the energy levels sky-high.
A miraculous combination of staying honest to the beauty of the work, having fun with opera and using the venue to keep it alive, PopUp Opera is a company to follow avidly. Choosing venues where you wouldn’t expect an opera in a million years creates a fantastic buzz around the art, along with buckets of respect for the company and singers for having such strong faith in opera’s versatility. As the troop took their bows, the magic continued as the roof garden above turned into a pop-up cocktail bar for the evening (we were warned that after one or two we’d be asking for a ‘cock-up poptail’).
“I can’t believe we’ve just been to The Opera” my friend laughed, as we clambered out of the trap door, brushed the dust off our knees and stepped back into reality. For anyone still clinging onto the belief that opera is stuffy and elitist, it’s time to let go.
Way ahead of other companies offering inexpensive opera in odd venues to the masses
I returned to Covent Garden, not to the Opera House but to pop in to the Sun Tavern, where the amazing people from Pop-up Opera were performing Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. A tavern is not my natural habitat, but wherever the Pop-up people pop up, I am delighted to follow, for their dedication in bringing operas to new audiences is something of which I can heartily approve. A Donizetti comic opera is just a sitcom set to music. Anyone who likes musicals will enjoy Donizetti and the 30 or so people who crammed into the upper room at the Sun certainly loved it and left with huge smiles on their faces.
The fruitily-named Clementine Lovell has assembled an exceptional group of singer/actors to join with her lovely Lovelly soprano voice, and the results put Pop-up way ahead of other companies offering inexpensive opera in odd venues to the masses.
Singing the operas in their original language (Italian, for Donizetti) brings the opportunity to inject extra humour in the projected surtitles, which are often very witty and sometimes a long way from a direct translation.
Do try to catch them before their singers are snapped up by the more established, but less outrageously innovative opera companies.
The Daily Express