Pop Up Opera have a knack of finding interesting and strange locations to stage the works of Mozart, Bizet and this time Rossini, but their current performance of l’italiana in Algeri really does take the biscuit. Hidden away in Rotherithe are the Brunel Thames Tunnels; a deep vertical tunnel which for a few nights only is the setting for beautiful opera. In order to get to the performance you must crawl into a tiny porthole and climb down the scaffolding stairs in order to get to an empty space with surprisingly good acoustics. I was excited before the show had even started!
Pop Up Opera specialise in putting modern twists on classical favourites and L’italiana in Algeri was no different. Moving the action from Italy to the casinos of Las Vegas, the story follows a seedy casino owner who rejects his current lover and attempts to marry her off to an employee, while lustily pursuing said employee’s buxom girlfriend. If it sounds like a rom-com, that’s because it basically is, and by gosh it’s fun to watch!
Keeping props and costume to a minimum and using the empty tunnel’s acoustics to full effect, the company and director James Hurley keeps this show moving at a break-neck speed which ensures that not a drop of comedy is lost. Throwing himself into the role of the lusty casino owner is Bruno Luxon. His deep baritone rang through the venue and the lascivious glint in his eye had the audience in stiches (no mean feat for opera!). Matching him in downright sauciness was soprano Helen Stanley who brought a bit of Beyoncé-esque attitude to the role of the showgirl who wraps everyone around her little finger. Together with the rest of the company, they smashed the score with their impressive range and vocal abilities meaning purist opera fans were pleasantly surprised and newer patrons to the art form were left in no doubt the quality of Pop Up Opera’s work.
To boil it down into a nutshell, this company is re-inventing the genre of opera. Discard any pre-conceptions you have of opera as Pop Up Opera is putting the fun back into the art form. I would be intrigued to see how they tackle a dramatic piece, but am happy to see they have hit their stride with summer-time comedies.
Reviewed by Roz Carter
Photo: Richard Lakos