ASYLUM CHAPEL, PECKHAM
Mozart’s lighthearted story of captive maidens and bold rescue bids is given the Popup Opera treatment in this highly entertaining production.
If you think opera is posh, grandiose or just plain dull, seeing a show from Popup Opera will almost certainly change your mind.
Formed in 2011 by Clementine Lovell, the company has specialised in finding unusual and intriguing venues to stage productions filled with wit, sparkle and entertainment. The performers are all gifted professionals in the early stages of their careers, and they bring an exhilarating vitality to each performance.
Mozart’s 1782 opera Die Entführung (the Abduction) is sung by the company in German, but there’s no worry about losing the thread, as Harry Percival has provided handy translations, irreverent captions and cheeky comments that appear on an old-school cinema screen alongside the action.
The opera was inspired by Mozart’s fascination with the music and culture of the Ottoman Empire, and the risqué idea of a Turkish harem, where our two heroines are held captive. In this modern production, though, Konstanze and Blonde are visiting a tough health and beauty spa, and are under the ever-watchful eye of a Big Brother-style Selim, with Facebook updates, texting and online profiles all contributing to the progress of their love affairs with Belmonte and Pedrillo.
The spa is overseen by the splendid Marcin Gesla as Osmin. With his imposing stature and richly satisfying bass, he brings a wonderful comic touch to his role as the Pasha’s mean-spirited henchman, determined to keep the women in, and the men out.
There are extraordinary vocal challenges in this work and Konstanze in particular must hit a relentless succession of high Ds and sustain coloratura to an extent that makes this one of the most challenging roles for a soprano. Eve Daniell has created an agitated, celebrity-style Konstanze, whose voice soars to the rafters of the ruined chapel where the performance takes place, and her richly textured interpretation builds in confidence as the show progresses.
Her ‘PA’ Blonde is sung by Emily Phillips, whose delicate, lyrical soprano is a delight, and her clever manipulation of her boss is achieved with grace and charm.
As the lovers, William Smith makes a romance-filled Belmonte, and Tom Morss brings a saucy cunning to Pedrillo.
Musical director and pianist Berrak Dyer draws the show together musically, while stage director Darren Royston adapts it to suit each individual venue on the tour – an exciting challenge when they’re all so unique. The Asylum Chapel has a majestic beauty in its stripped-back interior, and the cast are able to use the entire space, including the old altar and bomb-damaged stonework. Previous venues have included a garlic farm, a cider barn and an underground candlelit cavern.
Popup Opera is bringing this art form to both existing and new audiences with its mix of lively staging, great singing, and the privilege of being so close to the performers. And it’s all done with lightness of touch and great good humour. Small wonder this company is winning a fan base that’s increasing alongside its reputation.
• Tuesday 14th April: Stour Space, 7 Roach Road, Tower Hamlets, E3 2PA – 7.30pm.
• Thursday 16th & 17th April: Brunel Museum Thames Tunnel Shaft, Railway Avenue, Rotherhithe, SE16 4LF – 7.30pm.