I remember watching this…
And thought “I have to see these guys!” It only took four years (Scary thought!) to put my thoughts into action and watch Pop-up Opera, at The Vaults, with Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi.
This is the most tragic love story of all time, where two star-crossed lovers – Romeo and Juliet – find their worlds ripped apart against a new backdrop of Italy’s bloody family feuds and gang rivalry. Witness how their all-consuming passion tries to survive amidst violence, hatred and vicious grievances.
Loving the idea of a “pop up” venue, the company takes opera off the beaten track. Destroying the sophistication of a classy set, the voice is forced to adapt to an ever-changing, challenging setting. Echoes of tragedy and notes boom through the underground’s cold air, heightened the desperation of the two lovers in hiding.
Being at The Vaults, this tunneled intimacy between cast and audience, alongside the thuds of the underground tube rattling the foundations, achieved a dark desire to shatter the hearts of all. The romance was alive and then died. The Vaults created the perfect chamber for an opera.
Foreshadowing the death of Romeo and Giulietta, the frozen step of time, click of a loaded gun and frustrated grunts pains the dread of a loss of young life. The cast eyed each other, with flattery or in battle, silently saluting as they wring out the dripping desperation from each syllable. Repeating, emphasising or bellowing Italian, the cast were certainly a symphony of raised voices. Like a classical sing off, every voice complimented and united to create a sudden awakening call.
Unexpectedly, a woman played Romeo (Flora McIntosh). This refreshing gender swap gave the opera a perfected twist of “forbidden” lovers, especially in this modern world. Unknowing her identity as Romeo, Flora McIntosh did catch me off guard and made me question the need for a woman playing the male lead. However, observing the thought process of Romeo’s flight or fight unfolded the catastrophe of love. Adolescent, boyish, innocent mannerisms down played the flourishing sexual hunger between the couple.
Battling against the stereotypical portrayal of Shakespeare’s characters, Romeo and Giulietta (Alice Privett), proved how girl power can rip up the rulebook of gender and wipe out the “perfected” picture of a fairytale. Alice Privett conquered Giulietta’s vulnerability with determination to overrule her father’s beliefs. Her voice had the “Woah!” factor, capturing the sweet melodies of a trapped songbird. With experience, age and voice, the duo of McIntosh and Privett both breathed a refreshed life into Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi.
The solemn procession of men, Capellio (Andrew Tipple), Tebaldo (Cliff Zammit-Stevens) and Lorenzo (Richard Immergluck), puffed out the gusto and spat more fuel to the families’ fiery war. Isolated kidnappings and assaults, the trio bullied the power of the surname to act upon their disgust of Romeo and Giulietta’s love. With a constant poised gun and silent dare of doubt, I cringed awaiting the sound of a blast. Their anger was relentless and their hate to bring no shame to the family name gave a tensed, thudding conflict and the rawness of the nightmare.
Playing the peacekeeper, sympathy and sadness ran right through Richard Immergluck’s Lorenzo. Trying to restore some sort of balance, his torn guilty face pleads for forgiveness. Showing no satisfaction towards using violence, he’s a lovable, gentle character, who wants to harmonise, seeks reassurance and holds onto the utterance of promises. With a beautiful asking of Giulietta’s trust, Lorenzo provides moments of salvation, which sadly isn’t enough for the lovers.
Fuelled by hatred, the dominant head of the Capulets is a serious man on a mission to murder Romeo. Andrew Tipple pumps adrenaline rushes into his character, Capellio, creating a bullish shade to the production. Deep bellows commanding respect shakes the silence from observers. With a strong hand on his daughter and praise for Tebaldo, he effectively kills the happiness and the sign of any hope in the room.
Unfortunately, Cliff Zammit-Stevens who played Tebaldo had Laryngitis, so I can’t comment on his vocal abilities, but his violent longing to be with Giulietta was passionately told through expressive movement and facial expressions. This caused Oliver Brignall to be Zammit-Stevens’ voice from the side, which was very impressive from a man in the darkness. Applauding Pop-up Opera’s “the show must go on” mentality, the circumstances were professionally covered and was still enjoyed by all.
Bracing the audience with a gripping family betrayal, the stage was a parade of a dark classy affair. I Capuleti e i Montecchi was a beautiful watch, especially witnessing such a small strong cast engage in an alternative underground space. Running up and down the staircase, Pop-up Opera had carefully planned how to use and abuse the space for an awesome performance gain.
So if they happen to pop up in your area, don’t wait four years to see them (shame on me!), go book and experience this alternative approach to opera.
Big thanks to Suzie Jacobs and Tilly Wilson from Chloe Nelkin.