Company aims to prove opera isn't elitist at all


Clementine Lovell, founder and director of one of the UK’s most innovative touring companies, is delighted at the way the public has embraced Pop-Up Opera.

“We are now in our eighth year, and the idea was basically to bring opera to a broader audience,” says Clementine. “We started with just 12 venues. We have now built it up. We have now got 90 shows a year to 60 to 70 venues, and these range from the more traditional venues to places that are really quite unusual like caves and castle ruins and museums!

“The idea is to take opera to spaces that are less formal and draw people to opera that might not usually go to opera and to create productions that people can really engage with.”

Currently they are touring their production of Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel with dates including St Mary in the Castle, Hastings on February 15 and the Minerva Theatre, Chichester on February 16.

“One of the things we value really highly is telling the story and using that as a way of really engaging with people, especially comedy which is really interactive. We are really passionate about what we do.

“Word of mouth has been very important for us. We are operating on a very small budget, but people who come to see our shows tell their friends about us and we spread the word that way. It has been really exciting to get a following for what we do, and a lot of the people are people that would never have gone to opera before.

“Opera can be seen as elitist, but opera is not itself elitist. When you think about the main themes of opera, they are things like love and jealousy and passion, and those are things that everyone can relate to. If you tell the story in that way, people can really respond to what is happening… so it is not elitist at all.

“But with some companies, it is the price tag that puts people off. I was wanting to go and see something at the Royal Opera House and the only tickets left were £125. That’s really going to put a lot of people off. And also people worry that they are going to be surrounded by a lot of people who are very, very knowledgeable about opera, and that can be off-putting as well. There are people that want to treat opera with kid gloves.

“But with us, we try not to do anything for the sake of it. For us, it is very much about making it enjoyable and making the story come alive. Very often we update things to the modern-day, but we find that we get a lot of people that also go to the Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne, and a lot of them come to see our productions and say that our productions are funnier!

“For the people that really love opera anyway, we give them a different experience in a much more intimate space. They can see the productions close up and they are getting to see talented up-and-coming young singers. That’s really exciting to spot talent and to see the young performers coming through.”

Hänsel und Gretel will extend the appeal, perhaps the most popular operatic fairy tale of them all. Brother and sister Hänsel and Gretel are drawn into the idyllic yet dangerous world of the forest, where they encounter the Sandman, the Dew Fairy and, most frightening of all, the Witch.

“Humperdinck’s music magically evokes the contrasting worlds of the story that will enchant and thrill. The story is one that everyone knows and there are lots of wonderful moments of humour, but there are also some really dark moments. It gives us so much to play with.”