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POP-UP OPERA – RITA / LA SERVA PADRONA – Brunnel Museum, London.

Pop-up opera rita la serva padronaPop-Up Opera, founded by Clementine Lovell in 2010, brings classic opera to the masses – where ever they may be: performing in varying and exciting venues that range from boats and bars to the Brunnel Tunnel in Rotherhithe, which, and I kid you not, you have to climb down into!

This particular production is an amalgamation of two famous operas: The first, Donizetti’s comedy, Rita tells the tale of Rita (Lovell) who, thinking her abusive first husband, Gasparo (Simon Wallfisch), has died at sea, remarries the submissive Beppe (Cliff Zammit Stevens), whom she beats instead. The return of Gaspora leaves the players in a bit of a quandary, and so Beppe and Gasparo play against each other for Rita’s rightful hand in marriage. The second opera, La Serva Padrona written by Pergolesi and first performed in 1733, was the first ever comic opera and bridged the gap between the baroque and classical eras. It is the story of Uberto (Antoine Salmon) and his maid, Serpina (Melanie Lodge) who is in love with him and thinks they should be married. Irritated, Uberto orders his servant, Vespone (Darren Royston) to find her a husband. Serpina and Vespone team up to trick Uberto and make him jealous, where he realises that he has been in love with Serpina the whole time.

Pop-Up Opera has combined these two stories seamlessly to create one cohesive and terribly entertaining piece of theatre. The setting has been updated somewhat and although the libretto is still in Italian, there are some hilarious subtitles projected on to the wall to give us the jist, as well as a full plot outline of each scene in the program.

Rita is now a budding socialite, free from her first husband and looking for a new one. She purchases property from the estate agent, Uberto and his secretary, Serpina, which become the venue for and masked ball and so the story continues with Vespone linking the two plot lines as (sometimes) silent narrator and clown.

The entire cast are incredibly strong as singers, performing together with an infectious energy. Musical director and pianist James Henshaw plays with a solidarity and familiarity that supports the performers and that really unites the piece.  Royston directs with a comic flair, adding in moments of movement and physical comedy to great effect, bringing the fascinating and historic venue to life.

If you’ve never seen an opera before, Pop-Up Opera is a good place to start, and if you are an opera lover you will appreciate the sense of fun and whimsy they bring to well-known classics. Not only is this a chance to see interesting and slightly eccentric places, it is a chance to see some pretty good theatre being performed there too!

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Reviewed 20/07/13

By Amy Lawrence

20th July 2013
Brunnel Museum Thames Tunnel, London, SE16.

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Visit www.PopUpOpera.co.uk for more info and tour dates

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