Dizzy with the success of its bedsit Bohème, Opera UpClose floundered in its first show at the King's Head in Islington.
Rossini in the style of Jane Austen was more tea-room than pub theatre, with a Barber of Seville relocated to Salisbury. So much for attracting new audiences to opera, I thought. Yet the cosy village-panto vibe has served the company well. Londoners love to think of themselves as villagers. And tickled by Tony Britten's hyperlocal translation, with its references to Carluccio's and the Northern Line, and the inspired rhyming of Ocado with Abbado, whole Islington families settled in for Emma Rivlin's Cinderella.
The show is set up long before the the first notes of Rossini's Overture (played with hangdog determination by pianist Andrew Macmillan). Pay attention to the homeless man outside the pub, for he is Alidoro (James Gower), the magician and matchmaker. Unimpressed by the headshots and CVs of eligible young ladies who have responded to his lonely hearts advertisement, Prince Ramiro (Christopher Diffey) resolves to trade places with his servant Dandini (Tom Bullard) in order to find a sweetheart among the social climbers. But when he is tipped-off about a suitable girl in the house of Don Magnifico (Gerard Delrez), he is met by Clorinda (Emily Ward) and Tisbe (Sian Cameron) – ugly sisters in spirit if not in appearance or voice, with a father to match.
Rossini's subversiveness is often overstated – the target here is the nouveau riche – but his heroines are reliably and endearingly grumpy. As Cinderella, Sylvie Bedouelle finds a lovely balance between sulkiness, sarcasm and sweetness, singing with poise and style, most particularly in the tender "No, no, no, no, no!" of the transformation scene, where she arrives at the pub on a white bicycle decked with fairy lights, and locks eyes with a doubly-dazzled Ramiro. Staged in the bar, with the singers scrambling on to tables, pushing through the audience and casual drinkers, Rossini's Act I finale fizzes and bubbles with rough brilliance. Just don't wear white.
These are young singers, some of them more blessed with chutzpah than technique, but Cinderella recaptures the magic of Robin Norton-Hale's Bohème (that production returns to the Soho Theatre this week). If the arias are unfinished, the ensembles are pleasingly tight. Julia Berndt's set design is little more than a washing line, strung up with some saucy undies from costume designer Alexandra Kharibian, but the whole has a scratchy, scrappy, studenty charm. The invocation of Ocado, though amusing, is revealing of the distance travelled from the original Cock Tavern, Kilburn Bohème, in which Mimi's little hat came from Primark. Social climbing? Perhaps. Will the children of Islington be expecting surround-sound Rossini when they're of an age to visit the pub on their own? Either way, let's hope the parents get a babysitter for the company's Bangkok, chick-with-a-dick Madama Butterfly, of which more next week.
So to Mozart. Day One of BBC Radio 3's binge-broadcast (see Radio, facing page) presaged the marzipanned hyperbole to come, as the announcer claimed that the bittersweet A minor Rondo (K511) was the first to break with 18th-century harmonic convention, conveniently forgetting C P E Bach. Soon enough, the merest mention of "charming minuets" had me reaching for Radio 4. Never have I been so well informed about compost, consumer rights, and the thoughts of Chris Bryant MP. Could it be that the two stations swapped audiences altogether?
Kings Place launched its own year-long concert series, Mozart Unwrapped, on New Year's Eve, with a dry run of the following day's live broadcast from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and music drawn from the Desert Island Discs playlist. Grind your teeth at seeing Elvira Madigan on the programme if you must. (Has anyone under the age of 80 seen that film?) But fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout's performance of the Piano Concerto No 21 in C major (K467) was deftly and alluringly shaped from the first faint tint of colour in the opening movement to the turbulent melancholy of his cadenzas. Sophie Bevan pitched Exsultate Jubilate as an extended aria for Figaro's Susanna, with merry coloratura and a deceptively demure smile. Clutching his baton in his right hand like a lucky charm, cellist-turned-conductor Jonathan Cohen gestured fleetingly at various phrases with his left. Sadly, the tempi he set in the Symphony No 39 in E flat were so extreme that it was barely possible to register what it was that he had pointed out before the next airy skitter of fingers. Held in the palm of the hall's clear acoustics, bassoonist Peter Whelan was particularly impressive. I wonder if he conducts?
'Cinderella' (0844 477 1000) to 11 Feb. 'Mozart Unwrapped' (020-7520 1490) to 19 Dec. Radio 3's The Genius of Mozart season concludes Wed
Anna Picard looks forward to Janacek, Prokofiev, Berg and Liszt from the irrepressible National Youth Orchestra