Founded in 2011 by leading soprano Clementine Lovell, Pop-Up Opera proves to be a highly innovative company, whose primary aim is to make opera more accessible whilst maintaining a high standard of music and singing throughout.
The touring company specialise in adapting their opera performances to specific venues: they have been known to perform in completely non-traditional venues including a boat made of scrap metal, a restored Victorian poorhouse as well as candlelit caverns 100ft underground! In this case they informally staged an integrated version of Donizetti’s Rita and Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona above the intimate Sun Tavern in the heart of Covent Garden.
To someone who has never been to an opera before, the evening could not have been more inviting or appealing. Although flawlessly sang in the original language of Italian, modern translations and commentaries are, almost in silent-movie style, projected onto a screen ensured that the typically confusing plot was easily understood. This is aided by the heightened, extremely amusing deliveries of all the cast, hinting at 16th Century Italian commedia dell’arte in their performances.
The singing is beautifully executed in all cases, with strong characterisations bringing the admittedly obscure stories to life. Accompanied by award-winning Elizabeth Challenger on a single keyboard, the accomplished professional opera singers utterly charm the audience with their extremely high calibre, assisted by a great deal of well-timed audience interaction.
The cast truly commands the space with a wonderful spirit and energy, working seamlessly as an ensemble to form smooth transitions between sections. We are transported quickly to different settings by use of a plethora of different props, often with hilarious consequences. One particularly memorable section involves personal assistant Serpina, played by Melanie Lodge, tormenting her employer Uberto (Oskar MaCarthy) by forcing him to eat a selection of snacks, including a carrot, a bunch of grapes and a spoonful of melted chocolate, which ended up all over MaCathy’s face much to his dismay (or perhaps delight!)
Stage director Darren Royston has created an absolute gem. His crazy, highly creative staging has the audience in fits of laughter, ensuring a cheeringly light-hearted evening. Pop-Up Opera really is a brilliant way to introduce people to opera, without being intimidating and without the hefty costs usually associated with them. The cast and creative both should be congratulated for successfully achieving the company’s aim to broaden the appeal of opera, making it enjoyable and inviting without sacrificing any quality in the music.
For anyone wanting to see opera for the first time, or indeed existing opera-lovers, Pop-Up Opera is a charming, if slightly bizarre, experience. Broadway Baby deemed them the group to “make opera converts”, and it seems I have been converted!