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The World's First Popup Opera Comes to London
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The World's First Popup Opera Comes to London

Picture of Hayley Ricketson
Updated: 10 December 2015
The performance style of opera lends itself historically and culturally to a grand spectacle, one that engages the senses through spectacular sights and incredible sounds. The use of cavernous theatre spaces, elaborate sets and breathtaking costumes is an opera standard, and has been for quite some time. Innovative London touring opera company, Popup Opera, are breaking this convention and taking opera, quite literally, to exciting new places. We find out more.
Mozart's Die Entführung (The Abduction | Richard Lakos
Mozart’s Die Entführung (The Abduction) | © Richard Lakos

The staging of Mozart’s Die Entführung (The Abduction) at the Robert Kime antique store in Bloomsbury proved to be a night of extraordinary singing, dynamic performance, and plenty of laughs. The space is crowded with beautiful antiques, the audience themselves seated on very valuable chairs. A small stage space in the centre of the store produces opera that is up close and personal. Being so physically close to the singers and hearing their resounding voices makes for an exquisitely intimate performance. This particular show will tour a variety of venues over the next few weeks, from Dalston Department Store, to Knightor winery and restaurant, and Stoke Rochford Hall in Lincolnshire. The place in which it is being staged adds character and style to the performance. However, the multitude of venues and their differences make the space an ever-changing character in the performance, producing something new in each location.

The concept behind the company is to make opera more accessible to the public, allowing them to see and hear it in a new way. This is certainly achieved in their productions, as seen in the reviews. The production is stripped to make the singing and music the key focus, while the performers move dynamically around their adapted stage, embodying all the gusto of a performance at the Royal Opera House. The stage director Darren Royston brings out a vibrant physicality in the piece, inspired by commedia dell’arte style of movement and character. This production in particular, Mozart’s Die Entführung (The Abduction) at the Robert Kime antique store was made accessible through a contemporary lens and plenty of good humour. The narrative was accommodated for a modern audience by figuring much of the characters’ interactions virtually, through Facebook and other social media.

Mozart's Die Entführung (The Abduction) | Richard Lakos
Mozart’s Die Entführung (The Abduction) | © Richard Lakos

The story itself involves two women, Konstanze and Blonde, effectively being held hostage in a harem, which this production has translated into a Big Brother household with cameras watching their every move, though disguised a ‘beauty boot camp’. The lovers of the two women, Belmonte and Pedrillo, come to rescue them and of course, meet obstacles along the way, namely in the form of the bad-tempered caretaker and henchman Osmin, who runs the household for the Pasha Selim, the ‘Big Brother’ figure. The relationship between Konstanze and Belmonte has been adjusted to suggest that they met online, but not yet in person.

This narrative is expressed predominantly through captions on a television screen, or screenshots of Facebook statuses. This, in itself, spans a significant period of time (from the era of silent movies to modern day communication), but the humour is what both have in common. Contemporary abbreviations of language and slang are woven into the dialogue on screen, as well as self-aware humour. For example, a long, beautiful aria is condensed to one screen shot with a single line of text summarising what is said throughout the entire song, sometimes with a tongue-in-cheek reference to the length of the aria. They blend the historical grandeur of the opera and dated narrative with a contemporary expression of it. It creates a performance which is extracting the delight in an opera, for lack of a better word. The intimacy created between audience and performer allows one to revel in the vocal precision of the singing, and the expression of the story by the performers and as indicated on the screens make it light-hearted and fun. It offers a connection with the performance medium that is usually forsaken in exchange for spectacle and opulence.

The performers are by no means shy or disrespectful of their stage space. Their voices are exquisite and technically incredible, all delivering impressive and committed performances. Eve Daniell stood out as Konstanze, her vocal intensity and precision echoing throughout the entire room. Paul Hopwood as Belmonte and Tom Morss as Pedrillo were an entertaining partnership onstage, Hopwood’s commanding stage presence complimenting Morss’s animated and cheeky performance. Emily Phillips had an effortless natural quality to her embodiment of Blonde and Marcin Gesla engrossed the audience with his characterisation of the cantankerous Osmin. The production is double cast, assuming to allow for touring, but this ensemble was well assembled and worked together seamlessly. It must also be said that pianist and musical director Berrak Dyer, who was nestled into a corner of the room behind a keyboard, quite literally set the tone for the performance, giving life to the production with a vigorous and lively musical score.

Mozart's Die Entführung (The Abduction) | Richard Lakos
Mozart’s Die Entführung (The Abduction) | © Richard Lakos

In translation to their makeshift stage, the concept of the pop-up opera loses nothing. The fantastic quality of the musical performance and accessibility of the story are present and successful. The appropriation into its chosen space can seem mismatched or disjointed. For example, the contemporary adaptation of the dialogue to social media seems out of place in an antique store. However, this strange displacement and relocation of the operatic performance which may appear to be fitting the proverbial square peg in a round hole, adds more to its performative charm. The aesthetics may be somewhat chaotic, but the performance is of a high standard and superb quality. It is opera like you’ve never seen it, but well worth the look.

‘Mozart’s Die Entführung (The Abduction)’ will run until the 25th April 2015 at various locations. Details about where the show will be touring can be found here.