Opera. But not as we know it…

Opera di Peroni is the cunning plan to open the eyes and ears of people who would ordinarily just as soon be elsewhere. Rachael Jones wonders, did it work?

The idea behind Opera di Peroni is to combine the Italian love of all things outdoors with, well, opera. A collaboration between Go Opera and renowned electro man Kwes, it’s a ‘contemporary and immersive operatic experience’ – in their words, anyhow.

Luckily, it seems someone set the rain gods up with a tub of Ben and Jerrys or something because by the time 7pm rolls around it’s at least dry, if not exactly cracking the flags. And we were still pretty pleased to see a marquee would play a starring role in our first-ever experience of alfresco opera.

The first tick in our checklist of ‘things that make any event awesome’ comes almost straightaway, when a waiter comes over to offer us free olives, bread and antipasti. We’ll go to anything if we know we’re getting free food; when it comes as a surprise, it’s even better.

The actual setup is, if we’re honest, a little odd. An enormous circular bar was plonked in the centre of the marquee, with a piano just behind it. Seating and not-quite-enough tables are scattered around in a vague rotunda. This actually turns out to be a bit of an issue over the course of the action, as no matter how many positions we stand in the enormous height of the bar coupled with our relative teeniness and the constant motion of the performers meant we could never quite see properly.

As we’re milling around, eating our free food and drinking our free Peroni, the lack of stage makes it apparent that this is going to be one of those events when the performance just happens ‘around’ you. This is confirmed when two suspiciously sharply-dressed fellows a few tables over start having a row – in Italian. Here we go…time to pop our operatic cherry.

“Here we go…time to pop our operatic cherry”

With a drinking song. Usually something to be avoided just as fervently as the drunken ex-text, but not when the tune in question is “Libiamo ne’lieti calici” from Verdi’s La Traviata. It’s a stellar choice of opener for this ‘accessible’ performance as not only is it instantly recognisable, it’s also kinda jaunty and catchy as hell.

The singer-actors wander freely through the audience, eliciting an instant rush of fear from us – and several other members of the crowd, by the looks of things. What to do? Do we move out of the way as they head towards us? Do we hide in a corner or stay staring fixedly at the bar? Are we expected to join in? If so, how can we avoid it?

(Turns out the man heading towards us was giving out free Peroni. Our determination to avoid all forms of audience participation means we failed to get one. When he came back we gave him our best ‘I’m a reviewer’ face, but to no avail.)

Post-rousing opening, things calm down for 15 minutes or so. The performers wander around making polite conversation with the audience – a memo that we unfortunately missed, so our guy walked away unsatisfied. Then a woman dressed as what appears to be a bondage version of Peter Pan pops up to sing ‘Quando m’en vo’ from Puccini’s La Boheme. Things wrap up with the gorgeous ‘Chi il bel sogno di Doretta’ from Puccini’s La Rondine, a tear-jerking number about feeling lonely for a lost love.

As our Italian skills amount to counting to ten and nothing more, we did wonder whether we’d just be nodding and smiling without understanding a word – like when you turn up to a conversation just in time to laugh at a joke you didn’t hear. But herein lies part of the beauty of this whole thing; while watching an on-stage opera from the nosebleed seats might feel a tad remote, having the performers right there with us was distinctly more intimate. You don’t need to speak Italian to be moved; if anything, the fact we had to rely on feel to get the gist of what was going on made the music seem even more emotionally profound. Oh yeah, and all their voices were incredible.

Now ‘twould be churlish of us not to mention Kwes – you may not be familiar with him, but the up and coming producer and musician has worked with everyone from Damon Albarn and The XX to Micachu and Jack Penate. Also he has colour synaethesia, which means he sees a different colour for every note. We cannot be the only ones who think that is next-level awesome.

In an interview a few months back, Kwes stated his commitment to preserving the beauty of the original music while keeping things fresh. He succeeds, creating an overall vibe that’s ethereal and dreamlike while remaining playful. Not an adjective we ever thought we’d associate with opera…stuffy this certainly isn’t.

We also checked out his EP, Meantime, prior to hitting this event and it is a glorious 17 minutes of music with incredible attention to detail. That ethos is out in force again here.

So it wasn’t a perfect experience by any means – we’d have liked to see things go on a little longer and could probably do with wearing lifts next time, but we enjoyed ourselves all the same. Free food and music that unleashes our inner die-hard romantic? Sounds like a winning combination to us.

Rachael Jones

Opera di Peroni travels to Glasgow tomorrow and Thursday

Posted on 21/08/2012 by thedoublenegative