“Der Schauspieldirektor” and “Bastien und Bastienne” Review

Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, London, 23 May.

Touring until 29 July 2018.

Reviewed By Antonia Hebbert

4****

A double bill of obscure Mozart operas, sung in German, might sound like a looong evening, but this is a brisk two hours of fun. The singing sparkles, the spoken dialogue is in English, and the subtitles for the German sung bits are a little art form in themselves – written by Harry Percival, they bring the humour bang up to date.

Pop-up Opera specializes in scaled down productions that can be taken anywhere, from village halls to farms to a Thames tunnel shaft. Instead of an orchestra and cast of hundreds, we had Conal Bembridge-Sayers in command at the keyboard, and five strong young singers, in a set (by Fiona Rigler) that manages to be both basic and colourfully over the top. Mozart wrote Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario) in 1786, in between dashing off some his greatest works. The ‘story’ is an audition in which two sopranos (Sarah Helena Foubert and Hazel McBain) fight it out with stratospheric singing, tempered by the sweet tenor of Nick Allen as the impresario. It’s a farce, but the music is sophisticated.

The second part of the evening is Bastien und Bastienne, which Mozart wrote in 1768 at the advanced age of 12. Plot heavy it is not, but even at 12 Mozart was good at character and lively tunes. Two lovers have fallen out and separately seek professional help from a love guru (baritone Wesley Biggs). Laura Cheetham reveals her rich warm voice as Bastienne, and throws herself into slapstick with Nick Allen (again) as her gormless ex.

Anna Pool is the adapter and director, fully signing up to Pop-up Opera’s aim of making opera engaging, lively and easy to relate to, but authentic too. If you’re not an opera enthusiast, this is a great place to start. If you’re already an opera fan, Pop-up gets you close to the singers for an intimate musical experience that’s a treat in its own way.

This production tours south and western England until 29 July: for dates and venues see www.popupopera.co.uk.

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