Review: The Opera Locos, Peacock Theatre

Does the world need a jukebox opera? Yllana’s The Opera Locos makes the case for it at the Peacock Theatre

“Fortunatissimo per verita”

Of all the art forms, one could argue that opera is the one that we’re most culturally conditioned to accept a certain way (in a grand opera house, a single tear artfully rolling down the cheek). Spanish theatre company Yllana has a go at redressing that perception with The Opera Locos, cherry-picking some of the more famous opera classics from any and every composer and transplanting them into a comic narrative of their own devising – a jukebox opera if you will.

There are moments that do work – sequences that draws parallels between various arias and pop songs are inspired (who knew there was so little between Rossini and Mika?!) and whilst too many of us are blessed with voices only our mothers could love, a singalong call-and-response section is fun (though pity those in the front row…). Undoubtedly, there’s a real democratisation of the form here, something emphasised by the playfulness of Tatiana de Sarabia’s bright costumes.

At the same time though, the pick’n’mix approach to the material leaves you marooned in terms of any detail. Without a hint of which opera or composer or even what language, any appreciation beyond that in the moment is left completely up to how much opera knowledge you have. The opportunity to educate here as well as entertain feels like one missed as ultimately, the collection of performances proceed one by one rather than accumulate into something bigger than the sum of its parts.

To be sure, there’s no questioning the performance level – Mayca Teba’s wildly flirtatious Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen is a treat and countertenor Michaël Koné’s ebullient personality shines through his every interaction. The choice to perform as a dumbshow feels less successful, mime and nonsense-speak quickly becoming wearying, especially combined with a tendency to hammer each gag repeatedly as tales of putative romance play out between the five-strong cast (and an audience member…).

So a show full of big swings – some which offer moments of real beauty (Koné and Enrique Sánchez-Ramos putting a queer spin on Barcarolle from Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann) and some which frustrate (María Rey-Joly’s take on Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute is given a comic spin which, for me, undermined the immense vocal talent it takes). For all that the light-hearted approach works, The Opera Locos could afford to take itself a touch more seriously.

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