Love, (near) death, fake weddings, singing and Albanians – Cosi fan Tutte has it all

Cosi fan Tutte – Popup Opera @ The Whip, Mayfair – Playing at selected venues this summer

Earlier this year Civilian Theatre found itself in the stifling surroundings of Eat, Pray, Love Drink, Shop & Do to see Popup Opera perform Le Docteur Miracle; a marvellous little piece that lingered in the memory more for the quality of singing and the near brute-force goodwill on display than for a venue so cloyingly twee that a Zooey Deschanel guest appearance didn’t seem out of the question.

A similar proposition in the height of summer did leave cause for concern but this was almost immediately offset by The Whip; a period cocktail bar that may be painfully on-trend but at least it is dedicated to rehabilitating thatPop-Up Opera, Cosi, Summer Season 2014 (courtesy Richard Davenport) 010 forgotten classic – the Mint Julep; a more appropriately summery concoction it would be hard to think of.

Julep in one hand, Mozart programme in the other. It is easy to begin to feel like being part of a world long left behind. The limited seating and period furniture gives the event even more of the sensation of being part of an audience invited to an Edwardian stately home for a summer party rather than to a room above a pub in Mayfair.

It is this toAdam Torrance (Ferrando) and Oskar McCarthy (Guglielmo), Pop-Up Opera, Cosi, Summer Season 2014 (courtesy Richard Davenport) ngue-in-cheek nod to refined gentility that Popup Opera are so good at selling. Even Harry Percival’s avuncular presence before and after the show comes across as a charmingly pleasant Hooray Henry hypeman.

One of the more appealing things elements of a Popup Opera show is their inventiveness towards setting. They clearly recognise the constraints of the limited space and the need for a touring production to be highly adaptable, and there is a wonderful malleability that is carried across in a very carefully managed shonkyness to proceedings. This is testament to the quality of Darren Royston’s direction and the skill of a cast forced to combine the ability to perform Mozart’s score with a sense for comic timing and knack for audience management. It is a far more demanding performance than it may first appear.

Not being remotely qualified to comment on the technical quality of the singing, I can only say that a layman only requires two things from opera; to enjoy the singing and to understand what is going on. The cast are excellent on both counts. From the start you feel that you are in safe hands, with particular standout performances from Adam Torrance (Ferrando), Eve Daniell (Fiordiligi) and Clementine Lovell as the scene-stealing Despina.

<<Continue to full review>>

Le Docteur Miracle - Pop-up Opera

Violently assaulted by tambourines

Le Docteur Miracle – Pop-Up Opera at Drink Shop & Do then touring (tickets)

Being entirely unequipped to comment on the musical quality of Pop-up Opera’s Le Docteur Miracle, Civilian Theatre found itself both perplexed and perspiring in hipster paradise Drink Shop & Do  – a location Pop-up Opera Spring 2014, Le Docteur Miracle 1 (courtesy Jenny Dale)that clearly thinks that what it lacks in circulating air can be made up for in aggressively twee interior design.

The production can be seen as part of the continuing rise of the small-scale opera; a surprisingly niche success story even by the standards of a city that has managed to revitalise shops that specialise solely in knitting, cupcakes and inept service. The movement has being gaining ground since 2009 and the great success of OperaUpClose’s genuinely fantastic La Boheme, which lead to the company gaining a residency at The King’s Head Theatre in Islington where they went on to produce programmes that combined interesting work with variable quality.

Rather than establishing a permanent base, Pop-up Opera appear to have taken the form of the travelling players that have decided their form would be comic operas rather than morality plays. Le Docteur Miracle hearteningly plays for one-night-only in locations where London is merely a distant blight on an OS map; for every Hackney Wick and Dalston there is an evening performing to the good people of Herefordshire, Cornwall and Sussex.


A travelling production brings with it logistical challenges. Each venue is likely to be prepped only hours before the show and so a slightly rough-and-ready approach to the proceedings is only to be expected, and in this case forms part of the production’s immense charm. The cast work hard to actively draw the audience into proceedings and there is an undeniable pantomime feel to some of the evening, which may offend the purists but arguably puts at ease those less comfortable with the whole concept of opera.

That is not to say that it all works; the short get-in combined with the unraked seating leads to some major issues with audience sight-lines. There were some moments that were probably lovely but as they had been staged at the same level as the seated audience it meant all that could be seen was a sea of trendy haircuts.

However the story-telling was impeccable. Not being able to follow librettos when they are in English, it would certainly have been challenging to follow Bizet’s French. However the artful staging of the surtitles was an excellent touch. Eschewing the classic libretto of the original, there is a real verve to how Pop-up Opera have taken it forward.

Bizet’s classic story has been updated to the 21st century; it blends internet-era visuals and memes with witty takes on current affairs to create a plot that even opera philistines – like this reviewer – could follow without resorting to the programme synopsis.

<<Continue to full review>>