We perform an "opera mash up" of two rip roaring comedies in the amazing Thames Tunnel Shaft underground at the Brunel Museum.
Part of the fascinating Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, this place is like an extraordinary underground cathedral. The performance area is an incredible cylindrical shaft built by Brunel as pedestrian entrance to the Thames Tunnel. This is a unique and atmospheric show. New improved access by ramp and full height doorway gives to a staircase down to the lower chamber. A viewing platform high inside the shaft offers balcony seating for a limited number of people: priority given to those with impaired mobility or using a wheelchair. Serving delicious cocktails before the performance and during the interval in the museum’s Midnight Apothecary Garden. Not to be missed! Please note, this venue is underground and the temperature may be cool, so bring a sweater.
Seamless and sensational
Pop-up Opera is exactly that: a dynamic young opera company which takes shows around the country, popping up where you least expect to find them to wow audiences anywhere from pubs to barns and even caves. Their latest touring production is an amalgamation of two short comic operas: Donizetti's Rita (1841) and Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona (1733). The result is seamless and sensational and the stories are expertly interwoven. What Pop-up Opera create is a wonderful experience to be enjoyed by longstanding opera patrons and newcomers (to opera, Italian or, like me, both) alike.
Eponymous Rita (company's founder and soprano Clementine Lovell) believes her violent husband to be dead so remarries and becomes the violent partner instead, beating poor, lovable new husband Beppe (Cliff Zammit Stevens) into submission. The pair's vocals are flawless and the best of the production but the strongest couple is that of the other storyline: Serpina (Melanie Lodge), La Serva Padrona (The Servant Turned Mistress), and Uberto (Antoine Salmon) her harsh master, who have more chemistry between them.
The operas are modernised so Rita becomes the owner of a health centre and Uberto her landlord. Rita's therapy is achieving her client's dreams through disguise but the dreams soon become nightmarish when Rita's villainous ex-husband Gasparo (Simon Wallfisch) returns and Uberto's PA Serpina starts demanding more of her employer. What follows could have been stripped from a modern rom-com rather than from the operas of centuries past as the trials and tribulations of love culminate in inevitable, but still charming, happy endings. The action is helped along by commedia style acting which, combined with witty, silent cinema subtitles, largely overcomes the language barrier.
I saw the show in the Thames Tunnel Shaft at the Brunel Museum. The acoustics in this unique performance space, a cylindrical chamber underground, provides are stunning and it showcases the incredible talent of the cast, who are all professional opera singers, as their voices and perfect harmonies bounce around the chamber completely surrounding and enchanting their audience. The performance is laugh out loud funny too, with most of the laughs coming from brilliant Clown/Vespone/Director Darren Royston who takes to the stage as a health and safety inspector, general dogsbody and muscleman in a Morphsuit. Rita & La Serva Padrona is so immersive and entertaining that it will convert the most opera-sceptic of people into a devoted fan. That said, Rita & La Serva Padrona is by no means an easy performance. There are many obstacles that this operatic vehicle must veer around and the decline of opera's popularity is probably the least problematic of them. However, once you get over the very difficult entrance at this particular venue (which requires you to descend some precarious steps and almost crawl through the tunnel's small passage), recover from being sprayed by the Clown's water gun before you reach the 10 minute mark, and acclimatise yourself to the Italian, the performance drags you on board. I even love the amateur-ish dressing up box costumes - at first these seem faintly ridiculous and a sign that the company is desperately in need of funds but are really a result of its admirable no frills but lots of nice trills approach. The atmosphere, charged by the cast's unwavering passion, is invigorating.
Opera is perhaps the most undervalued of art forms today and so Clementine Lovell's mission when she founded the company just two years ago - to make great opera more accessible - was always going to be a challenge. Yet, with this vast array of talent at her side, she achieves it. Pop-up Opera takes opera out of the posh, expensive opera houses and out into the world. Much like a newly-freed bird from a restricting cage, it takes off and I for one cannot wait to see where Clementine et al fly to next. Wherever their project takes them they are sure to be followed by beautiful music and much applause. Bravi! and Encore!
Plays to See*****