What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you read the word ‘Opera’? Lots of lovely descriptions if you’re already sold, hook line and sinker on the art but for those who aren’t (yet) fans, let me guess, ‘not my thing’, ‘old fashioned’, ‘bit highbrow’? Well, I want you to let go of all these past judgements, take a deep breath, and prepare yourself to be surprised, and as for those already hardcore fans, well this one’s for you too!
Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of Pop-Up Opera that has a show in Croydon this month called ‘Mozart Double Bill: Der Schauspieldirektor & Bastien und Bastienne’ as part of the Croydonites Festival of New Theatre. We had the pleasure of speaking to their artistic director, Clementine Lovell about their work, how it all began and what the future holds for the company. But first, let me give you a bit of an insight into the show itself which takes place next thursday, 17 May at St Andrew’s Community Hub.
Comedy is at the heart of the stories being told here with two one-act pieces that see a pair of actresses battle it out to be prima donna, and a pair of lovers tease and test their feelings for each other. Both acts showcase beautifully skilled and playful musical scores by Mozart. One written within the last five years of his life, and the other when he was only 12! Both are two key moments in his career; one as the child prodigy (Bastien und Bastienne), and the other as what is believed to be one of his most creative periods (Der Schauspieldirektor), hence the title: Mozart Double Bill: Der Schauspieldirektor & Bastien und Bastienne – yes you probably already knew that.
Expect silent movie captions and incredible vocal talent to deliver a performance that is not only fun, and intimate, but also refreshing and inspiring. Bag yourself a ticket before this one sells out.
Being quite excited about this piece, we wanted to find out more from one of the talents behind it all. Here’s our chat with Artistic Director Clementine Lovell.
Croydonist: Pop-Up Opera is a pretty innovative touring company, and we’re dead pleased to have you here in Croydon. For those new to your company, can you give us the lowdown on what Pop-Up Opera is and how it all began? Aside from the obvious that is.
Clementine: When people ask about what we do, their response is often ‘Sounds interesting but opera’s not really my thing’. Then we tell them they can see opera in an underground tunnel shaft, amongst old steam machines, in a barn with glass of cider in hand, and they are more willing to give it a go. Once there, their perception begins to shift as the opera unfolds.
I often experienced this reaction when I began training as an opera singer; one of my friends even claimed to be ‘allergic’ to it. That stayed with me, and I wanted to prove them wrong, to show them that opera could be magical, hilarious, devastating or moving. I founded Pop-Up Opera in 2011, on my return from living in Italy. Opera is so much a part of Italian culture, so broadly appreciated, and is performed everywhere, not just in the big houses. I grew up in a small village in the UK miles from an opera house. We never went to see it, it wasn’t an option. My uncle has a barn where he hosts folk and blues events and we put on an opera there for a largely non opera going audience. They loved it. It made me think about how the setting can have a bearing on people’s enjoyment, or their willingness to give it a go.
When we create a production, our main focus is on telling the story in a way that treats the characters as real human beings. In order to care what happens the audience need to care about the characters, and in order to do this the interaction between the performers and their ability to draw us in is absolutely key. We work with a movement director to really develop the physicality of the piece. We don’t need a fancy set or period costumes to make opera enjoyable or relevant.
Croydonist: A little about you. Being an artistic director is a challenging role. How did life in opera begin for you and how did you develop into the role of artistic director from soprano?
Clementine: I began my studies in archaeology, and one of my first jobs involved training volunteers how to excavate and coordinating community archaeology projects. I’ve always had a strong interest in bringing something to people that they may not try or get involved with otherwise. At 18 I’d debated going to music college or university, and opted for university, but I continued my voice training and at the back of my mind was the idea that I might be able to take my singing further. It was a really hard decision to leave a job I loved to go and audition for music college, it was all a big unknown, but I knew I’d always wonder otherwise.
I got a place to do vocal studies at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and began full time operatic training. Once graduated from there, I felt my languages (in particular Italian, French and German which are important for opera) were holding me back, so I decided to spend some time in Italy to learn the language fluently (any excuse…). It was while I was there, inspired by the inclusive attitudes to opera that I encountered, that I had the idea for setting up Pop-Up Opera.
In the early days of the company I performed in our productions and also worked as a freelance opera singer, whilst taking on the roles of producer and artistic director. The first year we toured to 12 venues, and now we have 90 shows per year touring to 60-70 different venues over three seasons. It’s been a huge learning curve and I have developed in my role as the company has grown, sometimes learning the hard way. I am passionate about our mission as a company and I get a huge buzz out of facilitating and making things happen. My job involves building relationships with communities, organisations and individuals which I find extremely fulfilling. Gradually my singing began to take more of a back seat, although I still sing and perform, it will always be part of me. I have an artistic vision for the company, shared by my business partner and co-producer Fiona Johnston who came on board in year two and has built the company with me. It’s exciting and challenging, and constantly rewarding. When that person who said opera wasn’t their thing leaves our show beaming from ear to ear and saying maybe opera is their thing after all.
Croydonist: Being a pop-up, I imagine you’ve performed in all sorts of places. Where has been your favourite location to date and what has been the most unusual space?
Clementine: We have so many favourite venues this is so hard to answer, but a few absolute favourites we love returning to year after year are the Garlic Farm in Isle of Wight, with the gorgeous aroma of fresh garlic accompanying the shows, Broome Farm in Herefordshire (the cider farm where Pop-Up first performed), and Court Gardens Farm who have us 5 of 6 times a year and produce the most delicious wine from their vineyard.
Some of our more unusual venues would have to include the Thames Tunnel Shaft in London. Until the recent addition of entrance stairs, we had to crawl through a hole and down a scaffold staircase to get into, and by ‘we’ I mean every audience member as well as the cast and crew (and all our kit)! Also 100ft underground in Clearwell Caves, where the performers had to enter and exit through pitch dark tunnels wearing mining lamps, accompanied by a few bats.
We are really excited about being part of the Croydonites Festival as it really shares our ethos as a company. The festival showcases local artists and presents work from UK companies whose style is mainly alternative and experimental performance work, often presented in unusual spaces.
Croydonist: We’re looking forward to seeing Mozart Double Bill: Der: Schauspieldirektor & Bastien Und Bastienne, but what’s next for Pop-Up Opera?
Next up we will be performing Peter Brook’s La Tragédie de Carmen, a reimagining of Bizet’s famous masterpiece by Peter Brook, with some reworking to the score by Marius Constant. Brook pared the opera back to the heart of the piece: the tragedy of four people. The intense interaction of these characters creates a moving and thought-provoking piece of theatre coloured by Bizet’s wonderful music including Carmen’s ‘Habanera’, Escamillo’s Toreador Song and Don José’s Flower Song. It’s familiar tale, but not as you expect it. Our version will be quite dark psychologically, as Don Jose looks back at what happened in a series of flashbacks. It will be very different to this summer’s comic delight, but we cannot wait to get started on staging it in August, and it will be touring the production in Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019.
Thank you to Clementine for chatting to the Croydonist.
You can see Pop-Up Opera in Croydon on 17 May 2018. Book tickets here.
Event time: 19.30 – 22.00
Location: St Andrew’s Community Hub, Southbridge Road CR0 1AG
If you miss the show in Croydon it’s on tour around the UK until the end of July. Check out all the performance locations here.
We hope to see more of Pop-Up Opera in Croydon in the coming seasons.
All images courtesy of Pop-Up Opera – rehearsal shots of Mozart Double Bill courtesy of Lidia Crisafulli.
Posted by Angela