DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL – The Bull, London.
People still go a little bit loopy upon hearing facts about the classical composers, rock stars of their day. Did you know, for instance, that on the site of the current Soho Theatre there was a hall where Mozart once played when he was a 7-year-old prodigy? He grew up and graduated to grand halls. But his work (thankfully) is still being performed in small intimate settings, like the Robert Kime furniture shop in Bloomsbury and the cracking north London pub The Bull in Highgate.
Die Entführung is a well-known element of Mozart’s early repertoire and, written for only five characters, is ideally suited to adaptation and performance in a smaller setting. In this iteration, Konstanze books into a health spa with Blonde (without reading the T’s and C’s) to get ready for her first meeting with Belmonte, with whom she has been conducting a passionate online romance. Pedrillo, Belmonte’s valet, is in love with Blonde and so joins the two girls at the spa. Things are not as they seem, and the women find themselves trapped in Pasha Selim’s harem under the control of the brutish Osmin, leaving it up to Pedrillo and Belmonte to mount a gallant rescue attempt.
The team at Pop Up Opera have brought this work right up to date, moulding it into a caper suitable for an audience who may not be overly familiar with opera. It’s refreshing watching an opera without constantly keeping an eye on the surtitles, which are used here to guide the plot with select quotes (and jokes) rather than translate each line. With references to Harry Enfield, Donkey Kong, Tinder and social media, it’s clear we’re not following the original story to the letter, but the sense of humour of the production matches the material so flows without much difficulty.
Die Entführung has some of Mozart’s most challenging and elaborate arias. These are delivered in The Bull’s production with clear and fine ability and understanding of the material. As Konstanze, the vocally superb Eve Daniell unlocks achievements like a video game after achieving a 100% score for coloratura. As Osmin the guard, Marcin Gesla turns in a top class bass performance, showcasing real richness in his voice and acting as a decent comic foil to tenor William Johnston Davies as Pedrillo (think along the lines of Julian Barratt as a counter to Noel Fielding in The Mighty Boosh). The cast is completed by tenor Paul Hopwood as a smooth Belmonte and Lilo Evans as a very sassy Blonde.
Overall, there’s a bit of confusion and a disconnect between what the audience experiences through the storylines and the fine performances, and the visual elements.
The costumes veer from modern gym clothes to old-style nobleman’s robes, and (though they do make sense) the words in captioning don’t quite match the tone of the production or indeed each other. Placing Big Brother and Twitter references alongside poetry translated from the libretto works to get the point across, but is a little inelegant.
These points are unlikely to have real material impact on the enjoyment of the show. Choosing unusual locations and turning in unique, well executed and, above all, fun shows is what this company are all about and they’ve stayed true to form. There’s an intelligence and light-heartedness at work here from the cast and creative team headed up by directors Darren Royston (stage) and Berrak Dyer (music). All this makes solid progress towards the company’s goal of bringing opera back to the masses, and long may it continue.
– – – – – – – – – –
By Karl O’Doherty
10th – 17th March 2015
The Bull, London, N6 4AB.
– – – – – – – – – –
London Tour Dates and Locations:
19th March: Bermondsey Street Warehouse
26th March: Dalston Department Store Warehouse
12th April: Asylum Chapel
14th April: Stour Space
16th & 17th April: Brunel Museum Thames Tunnel Shaft
Other dates and locations on tour available at www.popupopera.co.uk