Le Docteur Miracle - Popup Opera - Drink, Shop & Do, 10 March 2013
I doubt if I'll ever be an unqualified fan of cut-down opera, but it can work - sometimes. The most ambitious successes, like Opera Up Close's Poppea, rethink the source material musically and dramatically. The other route to victory is to rely on laughs - which given the unfunniness of most operatic 'comedies' often means ladling on a little extra material.
Clementine Lovell's Popup Opera company have gone for a bit of both for their latest offering, Bizet's Le Docteur Miracle - and it works.
The plot is as limp as lettuce (well, Bizet was only 18 when he wrote it), so there's plenty of scope for spicing it up. We find ourselves in France, where un jeune homme inveigles his way into the maison of his chérie by posing as un chef. Then, disguised as a doctor, he tricks her father into handing her over as reward for curing the ensuing 'poisoning'. Unlike the sacred operatic cows of Verdi or Puccini, or indeed Bizet's own later works, the slight work can take Popup Opera's added sauce - indeed you could argue it's an artistic improvement.
In place of dutifully accurate surtitling, projected silent-movie style intertitles loosely translate the singers' (excellent) French into today's language of smartphones, spammers, Masterchef and (for the oldies) Allo, Allo.
The performers - Aurelia Jonvaux, Robert Lomax, Sarah Champion and Benjamin Seifert - really give it their all. This is no stand-and-deliver show. They move amongst the audience, offering a shoe-shine here, a shoulder-rub there, singing as they go. False beards and belly padding are flaunted with impunity, and some panto-esque mugging seems entirely in place.
The shoesting production replaces the orchestra with an electric piano, ably wielded by Elizabeth Challenger. Otherwise it's musically intact, save for snippets of Les pêcheurs de perles and Carmen at either end, stretching out the opérette's meagre length into an evening's entertainment. The post-show selection of Carmen's greatest hits offered both a reminder of Bizet's more memorable talents and an opportunity for the audience to join in - vocally and on handed-out percussion.
The show is being taken to a variety of venues over the next few weeks, none of them conventional opera spaces. It adds to the challenge for the performers, but ensures each audience gets a unique experience. I saw it in Drink, Shop & Do, a King's Cross shop with a bar in the back. What it lacks in space it makes up for in atmosphere and an excellent cocktail menu - check out the other events on offer.
photos (above) Jenny Dale
photos (below) intermezzo.typepad.com