The Italian in Algiers in Vegas in Ditchling
I’m no opera buff, but I love The Magic Flute and have enjoyed seeing it in different venues and styles around the world. Rossini’s ‘L’Italiana in Algeri’ was a new one on me, but the production, relocated to Vegas, looked great fun and seeing it at a vineyard seemed too good an idea to miss. That’s how my friend Susan & I found ourselves at Court Garden Farm in the Sussex village of Ditchling last evening.
Driving down a bumpy track and parking in a field proved that this is a genuine working farm and we just saw the vineyards in the distance – must go back and see them properly another day. It was an interesting crowd who gathered, a wide variety of ages on a delightful summer’s evening.
Naturally, first on the agenda was a delicious glass of the local sparkling and then we headed into the 18th century threshing barn, which Howard Corney in his witty introduction explained had not been designed for its acoustics. He needn’t have worried; with a small crowd of 100 filling the space, although not uncomfortably so, we could hear everything beautifully without amplification. The description of the plot in the programme seemed way too complicated and I thought we would never work out what was going on, but the hilarious sur-title projections made everything clear.
The players were all superb – Camilla Bull’s Isabella and Una Reynold’s Elvira appeared with natural, genuine expression from the very beginning, while Latana Phoung’s growing despair as she (as Zulma) attempted to retain some semblance of order over the auditions (morphing into a seductive croupier and back) was very familiar to me, or anyone else who’s ever been a project manager! The guys were excellent too – the performances of Ciaran O’Leary and Lindoro and Oskar McCarthy as Taddeo, only outshone by Richard Immergluck’s totally sleazy Mustafa and his absolute, total loss of dignity at the end, beyond hilarious.
With the only music provided by Elizabeth Challenger’s delightfully energetic piano playing, a minimal set and simple costumes, the plot was brought to life in the small stage area, which occasionally, and delightfully, spilled out into the aisle.
If proof were needed that you can make an opera contemporary, witty and entertaining without dumbing down, then Pop-Up Opera provide that in spades. With a vineyard setting and local fizz, it’s an evening’s entertainment that would be hard to beat.
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