Pop-Up Opera: See Romeo and Juliet sing in church and at the Royal Free Hospital

Pop-Up Opera. Picture: Richard Lakos

Pop-Up Opera. Picture: Richard Lakos - Credit: Archant

Pop-Up Opera does exactly as it says in the title, it pops up in unusual venues around the country, from pubs to barns to a Thames tunnel shaft and a decaying chapel.

Their latest tour of Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecci takes in Hampstead’s Royal Free Hospital and St Peter’s Church in Hackney’s De Beavoir Town.

Producer Kate McStraw says the intimate staging with a piano, an adapted score and five singers, helps make an often daunting art form accessible to the uninitiated.

“My background is in theatre but as a newbie to opera I have learned to fall in love with the art form,” she says.

“It’s a different way of looking at opera and breaking down the perceived barriers. People think of it as being quite expensive quite long or difficult to get to.


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“Not only will we come to you – we play rural spaces and unusual venues – but our prices are reasonable, £15-£20 a ticket, while keeping the artistic and musical quality really high.”

Bellini’s Opera plunders the same Italian source material that inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Here we meet the star-crossed lovers when they’ve already fallen in love and Juliet is about to marry a man she doesn’t love. Their story is compressed into a single day.

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Pop Up Opera has set this production in the basement of a Mafiosi bar amid feuding gangs in 1990s Italy - with a score sung in Italian with ‘silent movie’ captions in English.

“We have to find operas that suit our style,” adds McStraw.

“They have to be quite short, we’ve no plans to do the ring cycle yet – and we can’t tour with a huge set so we make the most of the lovely spaces we play in to create an intimate atmosphere. We bring lighting and in this case some bar crates, but it is still a really rich beautiful and emotional experience.

“Having live opera singers so close that they are in touching distance is a real treat - very different from being in the gods at the Coliseum.”

McStraw says Pop Up’s audience is a mix of opera lovers and sceptics who have been “dragged along.”

“The response is wonderful. People say it feels like a hidden gem. Those who have never been might turn up and sit at the back to make an easy escape but then they get into the moment and find it a wonderful introduction to opera.

“Some say they had no idea they could feel so much. Sharing something quite intimate is the kind of experience you don’t get in a larger auditorium. The hairs go up on the back of your neck you can’t help feel part of something.”

With many of the performers regulars in the choruses of big opera houses the productions are a chance for them to take on the challenge of bigger parts.

“It’s a fantastic quality of the performers. You get a different sense of opera that is totally against the stereotypes.”

Pop Up Opera perform a Cancerkin Fundraising Event at the Royal Free on April 6 and St Peter’s Church De Beauvoir Town on April 12. popupoperea.co.uk

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