Bizet’s one-act opera ‘Le Docteur Miracle’ is a fine and fizzy confection cooked up at the age of only eighteen as an entry to a competition for a comic opera organised by Offenbach in the 1850s. This perky little four-hander involves tyrannical fathers, thwarted lovers, schemes and disguises – in short, all the improbabilities which are the very stuff of opera.
This perky little four-hander involves tyrannical fathers, thwarted lovers, schemes and disguises – in short, all the improbabilities which are the very stuff of opera.
Pop-up Opera specialise in taking operas to non-theatrical venues. They tour an extensive run of one-night stands armed only with a few silly props and costumes, and an electric keyboard. Anything so lavish as a set or lighting would seem an improbable luxury. This means adapting each performance to what is usually a cramped and performance-unfriendly venue, with the occasional cock-ups that attend. No matter, it’s all part of the cheerfully improvised feel of much of it, and the singing is always first-rate.
In the original, Silvio, a young soldier, is disguised at the start as Dr Miracle, drumming up trade for his quack cures as an excuse for serenading Laurette. Her father has an aversion to soldiers and has forbidden the relationship, so Silvio resorts to disguise as Pacino, a cook-cum-factotum, who cooks up an awful omelette which allegedly poisons Daddy; only Dr Miracle can save him….
Director Darren Royston wittily updates the whole thing so that email and mobile phones become central. Dr Miracle’s ads are a spam campaign, and he follows the conceit through both logically and entertainingly to the end. As in previous productions, the show is sung in the original language, although there is a helpful glossary of Useful French in the Programme (“execrable – execrable”) and a glorious series of irreverent subtitles (“Young lady, I hope you’re not sexting”). They manage to drag in some cookery show gags, and the Mayor, with all his hatreds, naturally belongs to the FrKIP Party (shouldn’t that be FrIP?).
The men have the meatier parts, which is a shame, because Aurelia Jonvaux (Laurette) and Sarah Champion (Veronique, the mayor’s wife) have the more assured comic presence and Gallic charm. Robert Lomax as Silvio seems slightly stiff physically and ill at ease in the disguises – trying too hard to be funny, because it does not come naturally. He does have an excellent tenor voice, however, and like the rest of the cast scales his voice down impressively for the small venue. Elizabeth Challenger is a sensitive and discreet accompanist.
There are no great solo numbers in the show, but a succession of ensembles which are both catchy and beautifully executed in terms of balance and precision. In particular the Omelette Quartet, the only number which is at all well-known, is both hilarious and vocally exhilarating. In this the French obsession with gastronomy and the mystique of the omelette is cheerfully sent up.
‘Doctor Miracle’ is a charming and unassuming 50-minutes which is perfectly capable on its own of sending you home with a smile on your face. Unfortunately it is padded out here with an interval and a few excerpts from other Bizet operas, in particular an instrumental medley and a few encores from ‘Carmen’. This inflation does the work no favours – pace is lost, and Carmen’s Greatest Hits, though pleasantly recognisable, are out of place stylistically; they have too much ‘heft’, and atmosphere is lost too. It’s as if the company doesn’t trust the work, and they can. If they feel the need of a fuller evening, better to present another one-act opera in a double bill. (If they want to continue the food theme, there’s a very funny half-hour Rossini piece about a young man desperate to impress his love with a good meal, who ends up serving up her own pet parrot by mistake.)
Pop-Up Opera have done better than this, but ‘Dr Miracle’ is still worth seeking out if it is anywhere in your area, and will certainly give you a few belly laughs while beguiling your ear.