BWW Reviews: L'ITALIANA IN ALGERI, The Brunel Museum Thames Tunnel, June 16 2015
It's Vegas Baby! And the Algiers Casino manager and lead cabaret singer Mustafa is not getting along with his leading lady Elvira and she's not overly keen on him either. Lindoro is missing his girl Isabella, but not as much as he misses the roulette wheel, having gambled his very last cent. Isabella is on Lindoro's case and arrives at The Strip to rescue him, but Mustafa has already done a deal with Lindoro to have him take Elvira away to New York, so he can pursue... Isabella! Got that?
Yes, it's a madcap Italian opera freely adapted by Pop-Up Opera (very freely adapted!) touring some unlikely venues (though few as unlikely as Brunel's Tunnel Shaft in Rotherhithe). But if liberties are taken with the setting (and with some outrageous captions that keep those not fluent in Italian abreast of the plot), no such indulgences are permitted with the score nor the singing. It's serious where it needs to be.
With just Berrak Dyer's beautifully played piano to carry the music, there was never any chance that the less than ideal acoustics would overwhelm the singers - indeed they, magnificently, overwhelmed the acoustics! Catrin Woodruff's crystal clear soprano might well have been heard on the other end of the tunnel in Wapping, so much did it fill the space and the same could be said for Helen Storey's mezzo soprano - the Elviro and Isabella roles given full value. Oskar McCarthy was a winning Taddeo (Isabella's "agent") and Oliver Brignall gave Lindoro a vulnerability that was as engaging as it was impressive.
This is opera brought to people - literally on its tour, and dramatically in its adaptation - so it was no surprise to see Rossini's opera buffa dimension given full rein as Act Two goes full tilt for the funny bone. Bruce Loxton's Mustafa did most of the heavy lifting for laughs, though Amy J Payne is also very amusing with her disdainful looks as the stage manager trying to hold it together. Mustafa is hoist by his own petard at the end, ridiculed in an outfit that had a touch of the Jimmy Savile about it - though not quite enough to put me off my giggling!
The fashion for small scale operas shows no sign of going off-trend - and why should it? The source material is splendid, the talent is there to deliver and, as long as the audience don't expect Royal Opera House production values, the punters have a great time. If you're thinking of giving it a go, check the link below - they're coming to a venue near you!