In the depths of Hackney Wick on an unstable floating jetty overlooking the Olympic stadium it was hard to imagine I was about to head inside the Stour Space to watch a two-and-a-half hour opera where company Popup Opera had been programmed for a one-night performance. The name pretty much explains the company’s ethos, performing operas in various spaces, ‘popping up’ just about anywhere. Each space is different and one can guess each present their own challenges with different length stages, heights, widths, plug sockets, projectors, and lighting, all of which welcomes an intriguing evening.
Cosi Fan Tutte, one of three operas written and composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, depicts women and their unfaithfulness. Mozart does go to extremes with the men at one point blackmailing the women to commit adultery or else they’ll drink poison. Cue dramatic irony. The performance is made very light-hearted by the captions created and operated by Harry Percival and Timothy Cape. You could argue the captions are what keep the opera alive and gives Popup Opera a signature look, giving context, breaking language barriers and making ‘modern’ links, with comments on Nigel Farage and colloquial slang like ‘we fink you iz well fit tho’ to keep the audience’s attention and create some of the best laughs of the evening.
It is impossible to decipher one performer’s skills from the next; not only do all the performers have impressive biographies, but all bring their own quirks, their own charismatic charms to the characters, all of course helped by having solos to entice you. It was a joy to watch, with rather flamboyant and exaggerated expressions. A nod to director Darren Royston’s classical movement background was evident, but most importantly you couldn’t pin one voice to be better than another, they worked in harmony, as a company and as soloists to fill the room with class, beauty and humour. It’s safe to say that these young performers are the future of opera.
In its simplistic form it was an amateur production with incredible professional operatic voices, which is what made it so great. The captions were the voice of an audience with knowledge: any point you thought ‘What the heck is going on?’ a chirpy, generally sarcastic-toned comment explaining the scene or theme popped up on the makeshift screen. The show itself is just one small part of the evening created by founder Clementine Lovell, who finds herself as a co-producer and performer within Popup Opera. However, the show itself didn’t actually make a huge impact on what I witnessed. What was special was the atmosphere, the space, the skills of the performers and making opera accessible for those who couldn’t necessarily afford or ‘understand’ an opera.
The musical score played by Berrak Dyer was seamless. The staging was limited and sparse and the props and costume at times were disjointed. You can quite clearly imagine the problems that come with the company moving from space to space, yet they are clearly very flexible and accommodating. The space had two floors with two balconies as you looked at the stage, the company only used one of the balconies and this was at the very beginning of the performance, which was a bit of a disappointment for a company that thrives on adapting to each space. During this performance, several times various public members were walking around the balconies. An irritant you would think, but it actually bought realism and consciousness to the fact you are watching skilled incredible musicians performing in a bizarre cafe/work place, which makes Popup Opera enchanting to watch.
Popup Opera create a safe, fun space; what they are masters in is making opera accessible for all and that is what makes their evenings magical to be submersed in.
Cosi Fan Tutte was at the Stour Space 25 June. For more information and more dates for their tour go to the Pop Up Opera website.