Friday 14 March 2014

The miraculous Pop-up Opera presents: Le doctor Miracle

Pop-Up Opera - Photo credit: Jenny Dale
Le docteur Miracle - Photo credit: Jenny Dale
Bizet Le docteur Miracle: Pop-Up Opera
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Mar 10 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Bizet's early opera given the lively Pop-ip Opera treatment

Pop-up opera company, founded only three years ago by Clementine Lovell, performs opera in unusual and intimate spaces to great effect. This is grand opera on a small scale. Performing in pubs, tea rooms, barns, tunnels, and department stores it seems no venue is too small or too wacky for them to use. Drink, Shop & Do, near King’s Cross Station, may not be the Royal Opera House but, due to the talent and enthusiasm of Pop-up, it still works.

Their production of Le doctor Miracle, written by Georges Bizet 1838-1875) when he was only 18 years old, was extended by the addition of songs from some of his other operas including Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers), written when he was 25 in 1863, and Carmen (Bizet died during the first run of performances in 1875). Originally only one act, this performance was stretched to just under two hour (including interval) and you could take your drink with you.

The story is a simple one. Laurette performed by Aurélia Jonvaux and Silvio (Robert Lomax) fall in love but her recently remarried father (Le Podestat - Benjamin Seifert) does not approve. Le Podestat’s young wife (Véronique - Sarah Champion) however is more interested in helping her step-daughter find happiness. Silvio pretends to be a cook (Pasquin) at their house in order to be near Laurette, but his cover is blown and he is forced to leave. Silvio tells Le Podestat that the food was poisoned and the family turn to Dr Miracle for a cure. After some haggling, the price for the cure is Laurette’s hand in marriage. Of course Dr Miracle is Silvio in a fake beard, Le Podestat is outraged, but Véronique persuades her husband to let the two lovers marry.

Clementine’s idea for Pop-up was to bring fully staged opera, in its original language, to people who might not ordinarily go to the opera. Great acting means that even without understanding French it is possible to keep up with what is happening. There were no surtitles but there were silent film-like screen shots projected to one side of actors, which provided summaries and modern interpretations of what the actors were singing. For Le doctor Miracle these were provided by Harry Percival who was inspired by the TV show Eurotrash, and they were very funny. Where else would you find 'charlatans' translated as 'spammers', jokes about finding a home in a Tesco lasagne factory, an ongoing joke using mobile phones, and a Masterchef Interlude?

The performances were all very professional with each of the young singers having a chance to shine. The addition of extra songs meant that there were more opportunities for solos. The music was provided by Elizabeth Challenger on piano. This was perfect for the size of the room as she was loud enough without overpowering the singers. It also meant that there was a rapport between singers and pianist that is impossible in a big opera house that relies on the conductor to keep everyone together.

The intimacy of the room also meant that the singers could move freely and interact with the audience, who were encouraged to play some percussion instruments and join in a game of hangman. But this was done with delicacy saving audience embarrassment.

As Pop-up said, 'All problems can be sorted with a fake beard and a song', and the show ended on Carmen Karaoke - with sing-a-long words in case you wanted to join in. Le doctor Miracle may betray Bizet’s youth and may not have the emotional maturity of Carmen, but in the hands of Pop-up it was fun, fast-paced and a great comic opera. Le doctor Miracle is touring until the 3 May and will be followed by their interpretation of Cosi fan tutte.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

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