Monday 2nd May 2016 was a good day. And with so much talk about broken this and failing that, it’s good to now, on this sunny Tuesday afternoon, to take a moment to reflect on that. And what was so good about it? Well firstly the romance, the tears and the triumph of the underdog…and bear with me because I haven’t even started reviewing an opera yet, I’m just talking about Leicester City Football Club.
But if there was one thing almost as joyful as seeing Claudio Ranieri triumph (the phrase ‘it couldn’t happen to a nicer man’ is never more apt), it was possibly seeing Pop-Up Opera pop up their opera in Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatre. The sheer exuberance of this lush, supremely melodramatic and accomplished performance made the show radiate with energy. Stripped back to five performers and one pianist (Richard Leach), Pop-Up Opera go straight for the heart of what makes the genre great. They embrace the overdramatic, over-emotional absurdity, but never take it, or themselves, too seriously. Like Jamie Barton, the mezzo-soprano who won Cardiff Singer of the World in 2013, they make opera FUN.
Although sharing many of the same characters with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi is actually based on the Renaissance tale that Shakespeare also peeked at before penning his ode to the star-crossed lovers. The story is therefore quite different, albeit with a few basic thematic similarities – warring families and a faked death leading to a suicide.
In order to draw attention to the youthfulness of the main duo, Bellini made Romeo a ‘trouser role’ for a mezzo-soprano. For this tour of Pop-Up Opera, the role is shared between dates by two performers, Flora McIntosh and Katie Grosset. On the Bank Holiday Monday, we were treated to Grosset, who plays the character with a surly teenageness. There is none of the suaveness of other Romeos, but instead the hands-in-pockets, bomber jacketed lad who cannot see out of his own bubble of besotted affection for Giulietta.
The object of his love is performed by Alice Privett (on other nights it is Clementine Lovell). In contrast to the strength of her soprano voice, Privett plays Giulietta as deliberately and deliciously brittle. She’s terribly flaky, reluctant to give up the riches of her home for love and hysterical to a degree that would have made Jung and Freud argue over her for months. A pill-popping pop-up opera heroine, she adds a dollop of Valley of the Dolls to the production.
The duets of the two central characters in the bel canto tradition could send Disney bluebirds flying skywards (or foxes lifting trophies). Pop-Up Opera have certainly chosen a particularly beautiful piece of music to stage.
Amongst a highly enjoyable cast to watch, tenor Oliver Brignall as Tebaldo has a particularly elegant and effortless delivery. As Giulietta’s un-wanted bridegroom, Brignall brings a fitting level of bravado and rash physicality to the role.
Snapping along at a mere two hours and offering a wonderfully stylish performance, I Capuleti e i Montecchi is almost as pleasant to watch as Eden Hazard arcing the ball bang into the back of the net.
For more Pop-Up Opera performance dates, click here.