Last week I found myself at a Pop-Up Opera performance, watching Il Barbiere di Siviglia (the Barber of Seville) – a Rossini opera, which took place in reclaimed warehouse ‘Off Quay’. After receiving the ticket through a Facebook group on the condition I wrote about it, I was quite intrigued to see what it would be like, and also a little unsure of what to expect.
Whilst I’ve always been a huge fan of live music & performances, this was only my second time going to see an Opera, and despite a few preconceived misconceptions (eg. operas can be “long and boring”) and feeling a little reluctant to be going alone. I set off from work in West London towards the opera’s location, in reclaimed warehouse ‘Off Quay’ in South East London…
Il Barbiere di Siviglia: the Story
The opera is set in Seville (Siviglia) Spain, and the story is about a barber called Figaro (Tom Stoddart) who assists Count Almaviva (Ciaran O’Leary) – a celebrity in love with the beautiful Rosina (Katie Slater). Almaviva does not want Rosina to know of his status and riches so pretends his name is Lindoro, and disguises himself as a poor student. So far, pretty simple-ish? Well now it gets somewhat bizarre, as Rosina also has a guardian (James Schouten), who plans to marry the young Rosina himself… Bit weird. And there’s also a creepy music teacher (Steven East) and a housekeeper (Emily Blanch) that helps move the story along.
Il Barbiere di Siviglia also features the famous Figaro’s Aria, which you might remember a little green bird (voiced by Robin Williams) singing at the beginning of Mrs Doubtfire (love that film).
Pop-Up Opera: the Production
Rather than use fancy stages and props, the entire story is told using clever acting/stage positioning and 5 key pieces of paper to punctuate the plot: including a love note, a fake military billet and a laundry list. There was no complicated stage design, no big name actors/actresses, and no orchestra; just the incredibly talented cast and pianist (Richard Leach), supporting the opera from start to finish. Excellent overall direction from the Stage Director (James Hurley).
Everything is sung completely in Italian, but there’s no need to know any Italian before going as there are English paraphrased and modernised captions/subtitles on projections next to and on the back wall of the stage, including a selection of comical hashtags, which certainly encouraged some giggles from some of the older audience members around the room…. Kids and their hashtags ‘ey! One thing worth mentioning here is that I was definitely the youngest person there, which wasn’t a problem at all, but strange for me as I’m so used to going to gigs & feeling like I’m the oldest there, so it shocked me a little!
If you’re looking for a relaxing evening at the opera, then this definitely isn’t for you. However if you’re partial to farcical fun, and being kept on your toes story line wise – you’ll certainly enjoy this! Also be aware that turning your head every which way to spot the action all around the room is a must if you want to see everything that goes on. As you might imagine from my explanation of the story earlier, there were points when it was pretty chaotic. As well as getting a pair of underpants flung in my direction, I was also squirted with a water gun, followed by several of the actors climbing over me in a light-hearted “chase” style scene.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed myself, despite being a total loner and opera (almost) virgin. It was fast-paced and funny, without trying *too* hard.
I will be completely honest with you before I finish this post – when I was wandering through East India in the rain, trying to find the location of this Pop-Up Opera, I almost gave up and thought about going home more than once. And then after sitting down on what looked (and felt) a bit like a school canteen chair, which faced an empty room corner with an upright keyboard, I did ask myself what I was doing there… However my initial uncertainty had definitely disappeared by the end of the performance and I left very happy to have gone along.
If this sounds like your kind of night, be quick as the pop-up opera doesn’t stay in one place for long and there are only a few more performances of Il Barbiere di Siviglia – it finishes on 19th of February. Ticket prices vary depending on venue, check out where and how much they are by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the page. Seats are unreserved so get there early if you want to be near the front, although from what I could see at the location I went to, all of the seats had a good view of the stage. To see what else Pop-Up Opera have coming up, check out their website here.