COSI FAN TUTTE – Dalston Department Store, London.
Bare white stone walls, whose chill is only partially enlivened by a couple of lounge lamps, and an acoustic handicap of a low ceiling cannot negate the jubilant warmth, efficacy and potency of Pop-up Opera’s take on Mozart’s once controversial opera.
The focus is a mischievous bet from butler Don Alfonso (Alexander Learmonth) as to the perceived virtuous fidelity of women. He challenges his charge’s boasts, Guglielmo (Oskar McCarthy) and Ferrando (Adam Torrence), as to the eternal faithfulness of their partners. To prove his questionable stance, and with their consent, he tells their lovers that the pair have been sent off to war. Within hours, two mysterious Albanian strangers will darken their door (Guglielmo and Ferrando in disguise) in an attempt to seduce the grieving women.
It is a production as brazen as the opera’s premise. The notion of a proscenium arch is disposed of in a wonderfully liberating manner. The action envelopes the audience at various times, as the cast and characters nip out into the stalls and survey the scene/s from its depths. There is even time for some spontaneous audience interaction.
The music is predictably affecting and the rendition of Mozart’s delicate and dramatic work is faultlessly realised. Whilst the captions offer incessantly witty, punchy and hilarious commentary, it competes but never upstages the beautiful voices of the cast, whose performances are stunningly evocative in their rainbow of emotions; be it pain, humour or surprise. The fact that this is all undertaken with such a charming twinkle in its eye is all the more beguiling.
The only significant downside of this particular outing is in the stubbornly unmalleable location. The pillars and the lack of any gradient in the floor means that some vantage points offered a distinct disadvantage and an obtruded view. This is a pity, but it is no doubt an unavoidable consequence of an attempt to try something new.
In many ways, Pop-up Opera, itself established in 2011, has already sculpted an indispensable spot on the theatrical landscape. Their judicious meter skilfully marks stately reverence with an off-kilter, wild and unpredictable delivery. That, along with the re-appropriation of unconventional spaces, is a bold gesture. They have injected a dynamism that extends beyond the content. In the process, the most daunting and potentially ostracising forms of theatrical performance is shorn of unjustified snobbery, opened up to the masses and presented with an outreached arm.
It is a tricky tightrope walk, but they manage to entice newcomers whilst providing a timely, vibrant shot in the arm for the faithful. The standing ovation at the close stated this undeniably loud and clear. Long may they continue.
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By Greg Wetherall
Cosi Fan Tutte will next appear from Pop-up Opera at Court Farm Gardens, E. Sussex on 26th October 2014.