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Mozart Double Bill review at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club – ‘wonderfully-sung’

Pop Up Opera's Mozart Double Bill, London. Photo: Robert Workman
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There’s always something ingenious in productions by fringe opera company Pop-Up Opera.

In this double bill of jaunty Mozart singspiele the company has turned the first part, Der Schauspieldirektor, which sees a seasoned soprano and an ingenue battle it out for a lead part, into a framing device for the second part, Mozart’s very early piece Bastien und Bastienne.

So in part one we watch the artistic director and the executive director of the completely fictional Popular Opera Company as they hold auditions for their upcoming production.

It’s easy to be annoyed by the slightly smug humour of the captions, and in the first part Anna Pool’s directing allows the performers too much looseness, too much clumsy, giggly physicality and not enough precision. But then the singing starts and all is forgiven.

When Sarah Helena Foubert, as the older diva, summons her character through her singing much more fully and succinctly than through the acting. Her rich, imperious voice never sounds shrill even in this small room, and she duets expertly with Hazel McBain as the younger diva, the two of them harmonising perfectly on some very knotty and very high runs.

In the second part, about two lovers who consult a “relationship guru” when they’re going through a rough patch, Wesley Biggs is pleasantly dotty and erratic as the charlatan love doctor Mr Colas, with a lovely smooth baritone to boot.

The singing once again is wonderful, but the straining attempts at humour in between are overlong and annoying. Still, it’s hard not to admire the endeavour. Quality opera on a shoestring is no mean feat, especially when the singers are this strong.

 

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Verdict
Wonderfully-sung double bill of Mozart light operas undermined by clumsy acting
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