Croydonites Festival 2018 review: Mozart double bill by Pop-Up Opera

By - Tuesday 22nd May, 2018

It’s voice-to-voice combat in Croydon

Photo by Pop-Up Opera, used with permission.

As a keen amateur singer, I take any opportunity to observe the professionals at close quarters, so I was delighted to learn that the Croydonites Festival 2018 would include a Mozart double bill by Pop-Up Opera. Not only would I be close to the performers due to the intimate venue, but the proximity of the venue itself meant that I could be sitting on the third row within ten minutes of leaving my house. A more organised bon viveur would have combined this with a trip to the restaurant quarter, but bon viveurs aren’t supposed to be organised. Still, it was refreshing to set off on foot for a quality night out with nothing but my keys, my phone and some cash for wine and a programme.

I’d attended various events at the St Andrews, including a coffee morning, a Christmas fayre and a baptism, but this was my first visit for a performance of this type. The venue lent itself well to this production, with tiered seating, good acoustics and a separate area for refreshments.

The double bill included Bastien und Bastienne, which was written when Mozart was twelve years old, and Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impressario), which was written in the last five years of his life. The only Mozart opera that I’d seen was The Magic Flute, so I was intrigued by these little-known bookends to his career. The creative device for combining the two operas was to use Bastien und Bastienne as the opera for which two competing prima donnas were auditioning in Der Schauspieldirektor.

The ensuing clash of prima donnas was high octane, with high notes and even higher heels

Der Schauspieldirektor came first and told the story of a touring opera company plotting to revive its fortunes by landing a slightly past-it big name and/or an up-and-coming new talent. Due to cuts in funding, the company could only afford one of these but, happily for us, both materialised at once in the form of competing divas Madame Herz (Sarah Helena Foubert) and Mademoiselle Silberklang (Hazel McBain). The ensuing clash of the prima donnas was a high-octane voice-to-voice combat, with high notes and even higher heels. After a good deal of hardcore flouncing, the ladies deigned to share the limelight for the sake of their art, much to the relief of Madame Herz’s fiancé and the company’s chief patron, Herr Vogelsang, who would otherwise have had to continue rehearsing with her at home.

Bastien und Bastienne followed the interval, telling the tale of a young couple seeking the advice of local relationship guru Colas. This showcased the vocal talents of Alys Mererid Roberts and Piran Legg, who had played the company directors in the first half, and Nick Allen, who transformed from hen-pecked fiancé Vogelsang into errant husband Bastien. Colas plays the couple off against each other by telling Bastienne to play hard-to-get and making Bastien jealous by telling him that his wife has a new lover. After letting off steam in a very tuneful shouting match, the couple decide that they can put aside their differences without contributing any more funds to Colas’ Birkenstock habit.

The first half featured dialogue in English with songs in the original German, whereas the second half was all in German. Direct translations weren’t really necessary as the singers were good enough actors for us to know what was going on, but the captions provided worked really well and gave an additional dimension to the action. Katie Rose’s vlog on the Croydonites Facebook page predicted that the performance would be “fun, accessible and engaging – three words which aren’t normally associated with opera”. It was certainly all of those things, but above all it was entertaining. Both operas demonstrated how much energy can be spent in petty squabbling. The setting, captions and choreography brought that message bang up to date. I might try protesting in song next time someone trips me up with a trolley bag…

Sue Harling

Sue Harling

Sue Harling moved to Croydon from Leicester twenty-three years ago via Bath, Krefeld and other parts of London. She lives with her family in Waddon, where there is plentiful access to her favourite pastimes: tribute bands, cafes, choral singing and quizzes. In her spare time she’s a civil servant.

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