Saturday 11 May 2024

Stage: Queens of the night

The Opera Locos
created and directed by Yllana
with María Rey-Joly, Mayca Teba, Jesús Álvarez, Enrique Sánchez-Ramos, Michaël Koné
music Marc Álvarez, Manuel Coves
choreography Carlos Chamorro
sets Tatiana De Sarabia, David Ottone, Yeray González
lighting Enrique Toro • costumes Tatiana de Sarabia
Peacock Theatre, London • 8-11.May.24

A spicy blend of music, clowning, melodrama, mime and slapstick, this show centres around a series of proper operatic performances, delivering a greatest hits of popular pieces that pretty much anyone will recognise (such as O Sole Mio or Nessun Dorma), plus several lesser-known numbers and a few snippets of pop songs. There might be too much opera here for mainstream audiences, and it might be a bit broad for purists, but everyone will have a great time with these talented singer-comics.

The five performers from the Spanish theatre troupe Yllana play out three interwoven romances as they move from one sketch to the next, vocalising their dialog without using words and performing arias at full belt. The introductory piece highlights each of their colourful personalities before dissolving into a hilarious competition between Jesus Alvarez and Michael Kone, who ultimately dissolves into a full rock-god style performance of Mika's Grace Kelly. There are no more pop intrusions until the big finale, unless you count Alvarez's darkly amusing version of My Way. Instead, scenes feature seriously powerful renditions of Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Bizet and more as the performers playfully enact their running plot threads.

The central plot is a straightforward backstage love story between a tenor (Alvarez), who feels beyond his heyday and is having suicidal thoughts, and an ardent fan who becomes a rising star soprano (Rey-Joly). Meanwhile, the baritone (Sanchez-Ramos) is trying to get the counter-tenor (Kone) to take the music more seriously, and it takes awhile for their flirtation to blossom into something sweet. Finally, the mezzo-soprano (Teba) cheekily courts a partner in the audience. All of this takes place vaudeville-style on a fairly simple steampunk stage augmented by rich-hued lighting and fantastically camp costumes and hair.

Yes, there's quite a bit of audience participation, from stand-up style comedy bits to Sanchez-Ramos' operatic masterclass, in which he gets puts various attendees on the spot. There are also a couple of enthusiastic sing-alongs as well. All of this is a lot of fun, with a continual stream of witty gags to keep us chuckling. And the songs are performed with big emotions, so they're hugely involving. But the troupe misses a trick by leaving nuance and surprise from the storylines, and they only rarely play around with the intriguing connections between musical genres. 

As a result, the medley of pop hits at the end feels triumphant, a reminder of what a serious singer can do with any song.Scattering more of this clever juxtaposition throughout the show would have deepened the experience, but there's plenty of passion among these adept performers, and their camaraderie is infectious. So even if, at just over 90 minutes, the show feels somewhat slight, it's a lot of fun. And the sparky cast gets us on our feet cheering at the end.

For information,
photos by Lighuen De Santos • 8.May.24

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