We perform Donizetti's comic opera Don Pasquale round the corner from the opera house, upstairs in the Sun Tavern, nestled in the heart of Covent Garden.
A great little pub in the heart of Covent Garden, we were amused to perform here just metres from the Royal Opera House, but offering tickets for a fraction of the price!
…one of the best shows around.
I’ve come back from the best night in the pub – I still can’t stop smiling (and not just because of the beer, thank you).
There was this couple there – Ernesto (baby-faced public school type) and Norina. They were going on about how they wanted to get married. But then this guy comes in who turns out to be Ernesto’s uncle, Don Pasquale. Ernesto was going to inherit all of DP’s fortune before, but then DP suddenly says he’s actually going to get married and produce his own heirs, so Ernesto can forget his inheritance. Then this doctor comes along who’s really sly and he helps Norina trick DP into marrying her, then she acts like a massive diva and spends all his money so he thinks marriage is the worst thing ever. So then he divorces her and Ernesto can marry her instead and have that inheritance back.
Yeah, and they did all that stuff in the pub. Oh, and did I mention – they sang a lot too.
Pop-up Opera’s mantra is “Experience opera in bars, barns and boats” – and that is exactly what these five singers do, accompanied by keyboardist James Henshaw. This time it was Donizetti’s Don Pasquale in the upstairs bar of The Sun Tavern in Covent Garden.
And when I say they sang, I really mean SANG – in capital letters, with enough oomph to fill three Royal Opera Houses (let alone this little bar) and more tunefully than a lot of the big shot singers you can pay £175 to see round the corner.
Every cast member had buckets of dramatic (or in this case comic) talent to match their voices.
Clementine Lovell (Norina, and also the producer of Popup Opera) had the small audience hooked with her coquettish winks, handing her iPhone to the elderly gents on the front row to take snaps of her.
Her paramour Ernesto (Cliff Zammit Stevens) was delightfully stroppy and soppy at the same time, while Ricardo Panela was immensely likeable as Doctor Malatesta, bringing warmth to the character that made him cunning but not sneaky.
Raúl Baglietto drew every ounce of “dirty old man” from the great Don P (never have I seen the eyes-bulging-at-hot-bird look carried off with such aplomb). Darren Royston was a damn fine director – and also made the most of each grimace in his cameos as the butler and (having donned a fake nose) the wedding notary.
The set was ultra-simple: a table and chairs, a toy bride and groom, a basket of plastic fruit, and some pewter tankards (which the slightly nonplussed Sun Tavern barmaid filled nervously with beer for the doctor and Don Pasquale to quaff from). Oh, and a water pistol and a bubble machine; don’t worry, we didn’t get too damp.
Engaging the audience? Of course we were flipping engaged – we were sitting in the pub with these virtuosos as they made our pints rattle in our glasses with their booming arias and sung their librettos to us like a mate having a chat.
The next stop for the Popup opera is in the entrance of the Brunel Thames tunnel shaft. Then they’ll play a garlic farm on the Isle of Wight, a village hall… I can only imagine it’ll be a different show each time, as the company works around their venue (some of the surtitles at the Sun Tavern – “I’ll even let him turn my pub into a theatre” – clearly wouldn’t have the same impact in a barn).
So go, go, and go again to Popup Opera. You’re guaranteed a great night out in the pub (or on the farm or in a tunnel). And more than that, one of the best shows around.
Plays to See*****
Way ahead of other companies offering inexpensive opera in odd venues to the masses
WHAT a week this has been! A week, one might say, of extraordinary pop-ups and one pop-up-related pop-in. I shall come to that in a moment, but first I need to explain, in case any operaphobes are reading this, why the world of opera is so misunderstood.
There are three types of opera. There is grand opera, with wonderfully sumptuous music that one can wallow in and a plot of boy meets girl, they fall in love, girl dies, the end. There is comic opera, which has deliciously hummable music and a plot of boy meets girl, they fall in love, they overcome some hilarious problems, then marry and live happily ever after.There is modern opera, which has atmospheric clunky-squeaky music, an unfathomable plot and nobody cares whether or not the girl dies at the end. But it’s the clunky-squeaky opera that gives the rest an unfathomable image.
This week, however, I not only came across another plot, but it also popped up twice, once grandly, once comically, and not clunky-squeakily at all: boy meets girl, they fall in love, girl marries boy’s elderly relative. The first of these was a magnificent production of Verdi’s Don Carlo at Covent Garden. Carlos loves Elizabeth of Valois, but she’s pinched from him by his dad, the King of Spain, in order to cement peace between Spain and France. The music is great, the singing is out of this world and the girl does not die at the end; but Carlos and his best friend both meet violent ends, so it’s definitely grand rather than comic.
A few days later, 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.
Visit www.popupopera.co.uk for details of forthcoming performances and do try to catch them before their singers are snapped up by the more established, but less outrageously innovative opera companies.
The Daily Express
this team are something special and they have succeeded in pulling off something quite remarkable
The objective of Pop-Up Opera is to make opera “enjoyable and inviting without sacrificing the quality of music”, so reads the programme. Not an easy task some may think, particularly those who are new to the genre, but this team are something special and they have succeeded in pulling off something quite remarkable.
The beauty of this concept is that the cast and creatives (who are essentially, one and the same) stage every opera they produce in accordance with the venues they inhabit. That is, they adapt to fit the space and not vice versa, which is an even bigger challenge than first assumed when you see the types of places they perform in. The venue of choice this time was a private room upstairs in The Sun Tavern in Covent Garden, for a performance of Don Pasquale. This small, oddly shaped room offers the audience an intimate experience of comedic opera at its very best, and even the bar staff are brought in as part of the plot line at various points. At times, this is distracting as it’s unclear whether the background natterings are part of the show or not, but in general this device works in their favour.
Although Don Pasquale is sung entirely in Italian operatic verse, the story is remarkably easy to follow. With the help of some sporadic, cleverly timed and ingeniously written subtitles projected onto a back screen, everything makes sense and frees our minds to focus on the stunning vocal performances. I would advise anyone to read the full plot synopsis provided in the programme before the show though, as it aids with the understanding and doesn’t detract from the enjoyment. Clementine Lovell stands out as the shrew Norina, who is being kept apart from her true love by his father, who is disapproving of the match. With perfect comedy timing and a faultless soprano, Lovell charms us within seconds and injects zestful energy into the show, which seems to be almost infectious.
Don Pasquale is littered with lots of modern cultural references, which is presumably an example of the team’s strategy to help opera appeal to the masses. It certainly works, and some of the ‘text speak’ used as the subtitles on the screen provoke the biggest laughs of the night.
I always find it thrilling when there is just one musician carrying a show, and this case was no exception. The MD James Henshaw sits off stage but in view, with nothing but an electric piano and some very precise cues to bring the vocals to life. By the time we get to the end, it’s almost hard to believe that two hours of enthralling entertainment has been created by just one musician and five cast members. Don Pasquale is the perfect introduction to opera for those who aren’t familiar with it, and for those who are, they won’t have seen one quite like this. Pop-Up Opera have reinvented the opera genre in a way that’s fresh and exciting, and is currently touring the country. Take your kids, take your parents, take yourself for a glass of wine and an eye-opening evening of raw talent.
Pop-up Opera are 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.
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!
Our Verdict: The actors bring the story to life with humour and the space and minimal props are used well. Definitely worth seeing if you are new to opera and I’m sure that seasoned opera-goers may enjoy the change.
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 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. Pop-up Opera are 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.