Here's a confession: I'm an opera virgin. Never been, was always a little intimidated and kind of assumed I simply wouldn't like it. So I felt some guilt when agreeing to cover Opera on the Run's A Comedy of Arias. Surely I wasn't qualified to review this production, best described as an operatic farce. In the event, I needn't have worried.
Arias comes care of several of the same creatives behind Zipp!, the zany Gyles Brandreth-led revue seen earlier this year in the West End. As Zipp! did with musical theatre, Arias does with opera, providing an evening of "greatest hits" snippets (albeit in less frenetic and more discerning fashion) that manages to appeal to both lovers and loathers, experts and ignoramuses of the genre.
Arias differs from Zipp! in that it has a proper book rather than just between-songs patter - but I use the term 'proper' somewhat loosely. The story goes as such. Former Royal Opera House baritone Roger Bravado is launching an opera café with the help of his girlfriend Miranda, a waitress and aspiring singer who hopes tonight will be her "operatunity" for a debut. But much to Miranda's chagrin, Roger hires two professionals to join him for the floor entertainment. And much to Roger's chagrin, the pros turn out to be his ex-friend Jose, a womanising tenor, and Jose's overbearing diva wife Maria.
Ian Bloomfield - who plays Roger with amiability and some nice juggling too - conceived the piece, drawing on his own experiences as a chorister at ROH and ENO. Of course, the opera in-jokes were all but lost on me, but there are some very funny set pieces of the distinctly ribald variety and no shortage of corny lines eliciting something between a laugh and a groan from all types of audience members (eg "It all seems desperate, Dan" or "So is that your Carmen, Miranda?").
Far more groan-worthy are the scenes that make a bid for seriousness. These seem totally incongruous with all the whimsy before and after and, frankly, are beyond the acting abilities of some of the players. Slow, stilted ....
And quickly forgotten and forgiven once the glam Dirtyprettystrings quartet strike up the music and the four opera-trained singers - Bloomfield, Kate Graham, Luis Rodriguez and Marie Vassiliou - let rip once again. I was completely bowled over by the beauty of this music (most of it familiar even to me) and the sheer vocal power on display, more awesome still in such intimate surroundings.
So thank you very much, Comedy of Arias, you've made a keen opera convert of me. Bring it on, Covent Garden.
- Terri Paddock