Those underground Italian girls: L’Italiana In Algeri @popupoperauk
This minimalist opera group has pared back Rossini’s work and taken away all that business of harems and bad Turks. Instead it moves the story to a modern day den on iniquity - Las Vegas - and the Algiers Hotel.
Popup Opera’s unusual choice of venues and performing lesser known works (with a modern twist) is a great introduction to opera. Silly plotted operas work well with this format and so moving the piece to Vegas gives the tale of gambling, infidelity and cheap thrills a new dimension. Although perhaps a few cuts in the second half to bring things to a quicker conclusion might help.
Catrin Woodruff as the faded showgirl Elvira and Helen Stanley as the strong and feisty Italian-American lover of Lindoro. Oliver Brignall as the hero Lindoro with his clear vocals and wonderful phrasing was also a delight. Rounding out the cast was Bruno Loxton as Mustafa, Oskar McCarthy as Taddeo and Amy Payne as Zulma.
Keeping everything together was the ever resourceful regular Popup Opera MD Berrak Dyer, with just an electric piano as the accompaniment and a sometimes unforgiving acoustic that only a round brick tunnel shaft with a metal roof can provide.
Still the venue provided plenty of atmosphere and not just from the regular rumbles from the adjacent London Overground line. Apart from the experience of entering the space through a teeny tiny opening (and descending temporary stairs to get to the ground floor), there was a sense that the space fitted the Vegas theme particularly well. I had the opportunity to walk through parts of Vegas last year and I could see the parallels with the veneer of glamour and decaying structures surrounded by freeways.
Of course Popup Opera will be playing the piece at far more civilised locations throughout the summer. They are back in the shaft in July if you want the true underground experience, but check their website for other locations.