For their latest production, Pop Up Opera has really pushed the boat out. The company, who already perform in boats, barns and garlic farms, aren’t doing two operas back to back; instead, they have intertwined Donizetti’s ‘Rita’ with Pergolesi’s ‘La Serva Padrona’ or ‘The servant turned mistress’. Although the two stories only overlap at the beginning and at the end, connected in the middle by a mute servant who moves between the two, the marital problems of both adorned with mischievous japes, leave the whole affair feeling very much like ‘Twelfth Night’. Here playing in The Sun Tavern, Long Acre, an intimate and comfortable venue, Pop Up Opera pull classical material into a modern setting.
The performers, part of a rotating cast, pull it off with the usual charismatic charm. For those who have not yet attended a Pop Up Opera production, Clementine Lovell, who also founded the company in 2011, often plays the female lead, here delivering another stunning turn as the recently ‘widowed’ Rita, stunned at the return of her abusive and manipulative husband Gaspar (played by Simon Wallfisch). Wallfisch’s hilarious performance throws into light another of Pop Up Opera’s strengths: their shows are always very funny. Although the subtitles aren’t exactly direct translations of the original librettos – mentions of Facebook, Twitter and other modern obsessions regularly occur – their slightly sardonic approach is refreshingly light and tongue in cheek: they’re serious about opera but know opera isn’t always serious. As Beppe, Cliff Zammit Stevens, his comic gifts shining through as they did in Pop Up Opera’s previous production of Don Pasquale, takes this to heart, impressing the audience by matching the veracity of his singing with the expressiveness of his face.
At the end of each scene of ‘Rita’ we take a break to watch the unfolding drama on the other side of the house. ‘La serva padrona’ concerns the loveless Uberto, kept on his toes by his secretary Serpina. Played here by Oskar McCarthy and Melanie Lodge, they make for a dysfunctional and amusing couple. As they bicker and fight with repressed affection, they provide heartwarming relief from ‘Rita’ and its backstabbing treacherousness. Like the rest of the cast, McCarthy and Lodge are both excellent, adept singers and competent actors. In fact it’s hard to find a weak link in the cast. You should even keep an eye out for Elizabeth Challenger in the corner, on the piano. Her energetic performance on the piano is a surprisingly watchable delight.
Pop Up Opera continue with their tour till the end of July. Have a look at their website here: www.popupopera.co.uk.