"We challenge conventions and break down barriers..."

An interview with PopUp Opera, an ambitious touring opera company that is passionate about the interplay between music and drama, and one of RESEO's most recent members. 
Could you describe your company in a few words?

An ambitious touring opera company, passionate about the interplay between music and drama that opera presents. We challenge conventions and break down barriers between performers and audiences, while maintaining exceptionally high musical standards. Performance exists in the present, and we embrace that.

What would you say are your main objectives?

Introducing opera to new audiences, through our style and literally by taking our productions to rural areas where access to live opera is scarce, offering a different experience for opera lovers, one which is intimate and relaxed, providing a platform for emerging professional talented performers, directors, designers and technical crew to gain exposure and develop their careers. And above all to change preconceived perception of opera!

What kind of activities or experiences do you offer?

The opportunity to watch and listen to opera in a stimulating environment, such as a gin distillery, a tunnel shaft, a derelict chapel, a warehouse, a familiar filming location, a once hidden Masonic temple, a theatre set within underground tunnels beneath a railway station, or amongst water wheels and steam engines…

We have also begun to develop and trial workshops in schools to accompany performances. Opportunities to provide some context to the piece, and give the students (mostly secondary age) an understanding of the process of staging an opera, but always to also then see the full piece. Allowing them to put the two experiences together to get a really powerful insight into the artform, as well as to stress the many different professional opportunities available in the industry, which can often be overlooked by young people who don’t see themselves as performers or musicians. We have so far put this into practice in the UK, but are in discussion with an international school and hope that this is the first conversation of many.

Could you provide some examples of productions or projects that are representative of your work?

I think I can confidently say that all of our productions are a reflection of our ethos and unique approach to opera. The four things we focus on bringing together are music, text, physical performance and captions. The latter (The traditional alternative being surtitles) allows the other three elements to really live and breath. The three are such powerful storytelling tools in their own right, that even if you don’t speak the language, the music takes you on a journey and the singer’s portrayal of the character, and their interpretation and delivery of the text tells the audience an enormous amount. Rather than distracting away from this with a constantly running direct translation, we project captions just regularly enough to assist the story and complement rather than compete. In a comedy these can almost take on their own voice and don’t need to be an exact translation, they paraphrase, draw contemporary parallels, comment and occasionally provide the opportunity for some gentle irreverence.

Do you work internationally or aim to do so at some point in the future?

We work internationally in two ways: touring our small-scale productions abroad, and taking the approach we do in the UK to adapt in each venue we go into. We work with a translator in advance, to ensure the nuances and humour in our captions has been maintained in the translation.

We have also collaborated with an opera house in Norway, Kilden Teater og Konserthus, to create a production on a much larger scale. We brought our artistic teams together to produce a hugely exciting and dynamic production of Le nozze di Figaro. For this production we upscaled from our usual touring productions but preserved our own particular style and ethos in order to help bring in a new and younger audience. Our performers, stage director, musical director and captions writer/designer worked with Kilden’s orchestra, set designer, costume designer, lighting designer and backstage team.

What inspired you to join RESEO?

We would really like to build on both of our international models, as they have proved exciting, stimulating and enormously fruitful creatively. They have been hugely rewarding both from the perspective of those involved, as well as for audiences. We hope that the fantastic, diverse RESEO community will be somewhere to begin new conversations, to share ideas and develop on these successful precedents for collaborating across boarders in the mission to, put so well by RESEO, widen access, awaken curiosity, and create a connection with opera for everyone!

Find our more about PopUp Opera: www.popupopera.co.uk

Photos © Robert Workman and Joe Okpako