As with classical opera, the Opera di Peroni welcomed the audience with a red carpet. However the performance held in London and Bristol in mid-March 2013 had little else in common with the crown moldings, red velvet seats, gold paintings, three piece suits and smart dresses of classical opera. In these performances, a dark warehouse replaced the luxurious halls in which opera is usually performed. Inside there were no seats, just a few pieces of set scattered all over the place – two sofas, a bed and a dance floor – between which the singers moved as they performed a modern version of Puccini’s opera La Rondine, partly updated by Kwes, a talented ‘freepop’ music producer. This contributed to a very dynamic and emotional experience.
Although the event was hosted and mostly funded by the Italian beer Peroni, it was produced by GO OPERA, a London-based organisation which aims to revitalise opera and guarantee its future as an art form.
Opera’s universe is usually depicted as conventional and kind of old-fashioned. How did you develop an interest in this art?
Condron: Dominic (Kraemer) and I have both been singing since we were younger, Dominic performed as a child in operas such as Britten’s Turn of the Screw and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. In our late teens, we shared a very enthusiastic singing teacher, who literally wouldn’t let us feel otherwise and I went on to train for a year in a Paris conservatoire in an Erasmus scheme from University. So, it has always been an interest of ours. Dominic is currently finishing his training at The Royal Academy of Music and I have decided to become an actor, whilst maintaining my love of opera through our company.
What’s the main idea behind GO OPERA?
We consider opera to be a genre of artistic performance in which every theatrical discipline comes together to form something totally heightened and emotionally potent. What we want is to make this exciting and intense entertainment available and accessible to everyone – both on an emotional and a practical level. We created GO OPERA because we felt that opera was being overlooked by our peers as a valuable resource for relevant, artistic expression. Not only that, we realised that a lot of the time people may have been curious, but simply couldn’t afford to buy tickets to regular shows. For this reason, we are continuously committed to keeping our ticket prices low.
What’s GO OPERA’s concrete activity?
Our main thrust is annual, or bi-annual, events that run for two weeks (hopefully lengthier runs as we garner support). However, we are also often asked to visit summer festivals (like the Wilderness Festival in 2011), which we do in a more pared down way – it’s very informal and fun and always receives a hugely positive response from crowds.
How come you have produced the Opera di Peroni?
When Peroni first contacted us, we were struggling with funding as it was just after the Arts Council experienced a round of big cuts. It was a pretty dire time. However, it wasn’t just the lure of Peroni’s budget that got us going – it seemed that their aims to appeal to a younger crowd who were more ‘on the cultural pulse’ really chimed with our manifesto. It was a perfect opportunity that we really couldn’t have passed up.
There has been a lot of advertising around the artist Kwes, a British ‘freepop’ music producer and composer who took part in the Opera di Peroni. Tell us more about your collaboration.
One of the ways in which Peroni were keen to work was to involve a young, electronic artist to work on the musical side of the opera with us. We chose Kwes for a few reasons: Listening to the music on his last EP Meantime we could actually hear a lot of melodic work that seemed to echo, unwittingly, the kind of line and phrasing that is so key in romantic, Italian opera. He’s obviously a very gifted composer, but his background in producing suggested that he was sensitive to other people’s work – in our case, Puccini! He proved to be an incredibly intuitive and thoughtful collaborator, providing a wonderful, symphonic sound without detracting from any of the original scoring or the singers’ interpretations of the music. Finally, he’s considerate and one of the loveliest people to work with!
By keeping tickets cheap, working with a talented young composer, you make opera more attractive to young people. By what other means do you revisit classic pieces and make them more modern?
One of the foundations of GO OPERA is that we’ll always try to perform our pieces in unusual, urban spaces. This allows for a sense of regeneration of disused or rehashed city spaces, which is an inherently modern movement present in London, regionally and internationally, ranging from immersive fringe theatre to pop-up restaurants. Also we try to give opportunities to younger singers so we can act as a launchpad for them.
In an ideal world, GO OPERA wants to employ digital technology to help us inhabit a space, as well as bring the piece crashing into the modern consciousness – this isn’t always as straightforward as we’d like, because as a small company we are regularly faced with problems of funding – as are many others – and as such don’t have access to the high-end equipment. But one day we’d love to do some really out there events that involve the most up-to-date technology and technicians, really immersing audiences in digitalized context…
Another aspect of opera that can sometimes render it less appealing is the sheer length of the pieces. As with most Shakespeare plays, the average romantic opera is about 2.5-3 hours, a lot of which is lengthy back-and-forth between characters (recitative). So, we cut our operas down to about 80 minutes. This has the dual purpose of cutting out any potentially boring bits, but also makes them pacier which is hopefully more exciting to watch.
Do you feel there’s a lack of interest in opera among young people?
Sadly, yes, although I think this is beginning to change. Fringe opera is gathering interest amongst a younger generation who are seeing the potential that opera has to be valid and current for every generation – this is really important. Opera needs to find a way to avoid just appealing to an ever-dwindling audience and if it can evolve into something that doesn’t lose sight of its origins, but that can target a larger, and still growing, group of cultural movers then its future will be assured.