If you think that opera is performed by a bunch of clowns, this is the show for you. A troupe of five eccentric opera singers with dazzling voices perform some of the world’s best arias mixed with pop classics, clownery and physical theatre. Verdi, Bizet, Handel, Puccini, Mozart – they do it all, as the virtuosos push their vocal cords to the limit without even breaking a sweat.
Performers are masters of audience participation
Created and directed by the Spanish troupe Yllana, A Comedy of Operas makes a refreshing return to the origins of comedy, all the way to the Italian commedia dell'arte and its sad clown figure Pierrot. There are plenty of references to the world of circus, burlesque and rococo with colourful costumes, wigs and painted faces. The stories are told by miming, gestures and singing, and the themes vary from the battle of egos between the singers to different variations of love and desire.
The characters of the story are well recognisable from the opera world: the vamp, the romantic, the old maestro, the young eccentric, and the egoist. While the female roles are a bit one sided and outdated, one of the male characters has a refreshingly queer disposition. Romantic entanglements ensue between the characters, giving room to focus on their emotions. The chaotic choreography with intentional clashes and constant ego battles keep the audience well entertained.
The virtuosity of the vocalists is evident in their precise execution of some of the best-known arias like Toreador, Queen of the Night and Nessun dorma. Tenors Toni Comas and Alberto Frías, baritone Enrique Sánchez Gómez, soprano María Rey-Joly and mezzosoprano Mayca Teba are the rare breed of opera talent who can call themselves entertainers. They succeed in bringing together the seemingly irreconcilable elements of the absurdity of the clowns and the solemnity of lyrical music in a combination that creates magic on stage.
Yllana's performers are masters of audience participation. My favourite part was Enrique Sánchez Gómez’s audience masterclass from Rigoletto’s loved aria La donna è mobile, made famous by Luciano Pavarotti. Following eagerly the maestro note by note, the audience revealed the depth of its operatic knowledge. In that rare moment we all felt part of this crazy production. One lucky audience member also got to experience first-hand how it feels when an opera diva falls madly in love with him.
The comedy of opera achieves to break down some of the intimidation imposed by opera and push opera closer to the general audience. The immaculate Pentland Theatre at the EICC offers a majestic backdrop for the show. Everything from the auditorium to lighting and set design is world-class. As for extending opera to everyone, the audience seemed to consist of rather established opera fans who probably had more trouble recognising the pop songs than the arias.
The problem with perfection is that it lacks the element of surprise. When everything is timed and planned perfectly, there is no room for spontaneity. That is the only element missing of the wonderful show. The troupe possess undeniable talent, a tone of strength and accuracy that would have any creative director weeping with joy. Making virtuosity seem easy is the hardest part, and for that they deserve a standing ovation.