The Opera Locos


This brief, charming residency at the Peacock Theatre offers a light-touch introduction to opera to those new to the genre and wary of negotiating its conventions. It also rewards afficianados with knowing and affectionate tributes to opera tropes and droll delivery of famous numbers showcased in gently comic scenarios.

The evening is quite short, running to little over 90 minutes including an interval; but each of the many scenes packs a real musical and comic punch, so that it certainly seems like a full programme. What we have here are five skilled Spanish opera singers with an excellent grasp of core repertory willing to engage playfully with opera stereotypes. So we have Alfredo, a portly tenor past his best, wheezing to a halt in ‘Nessun dorma.’ Obsessed with him is Maria, a naive soprano determined to live out romantic dreams. Alongside them is Carmen, a feisty mezzo, determined to go her own way like her own operatic namesake. Finally there is another unlikely pair – Franelli, a gauche and goofy counter-tenor, and Enrique, the swaggering baritone, who learns to find the tenderness within the toreador.

The set is minimalist, just a couple of dressing tables for backstage scenes, and a curtained back-drop for concealment and reveal. But the costumes and wigs are appropriately lavish, both period and punk in their appeal. There is a recorded soundtrack, alternating orchestral and piano accompaniments, which wittily frame the strong vocal contributions of the cast. The numbers are not purely operatic – the singers segue into popular songs too when the emotional mood or moment suits them – so Whitney and Sinatra and others rub shoulders charmingly with Puccini, Verdi, Mozart and Handel. The extracts are just long enough to do justice to the compositions, while not overstaying their welcome in a packed running order.

A short review can only mention a few highlights, but it would be churlish not to cheer a superb pin-point account of the Queen of the Night’s notoriously difficult first aria from María Rey-Joly, and to acknowledge that when we finally did get a full delivery of Nessun dorma’ from Jesús Álvarez it was well worth waiting for.

An important element of the evening’s success is the ability of the cast to engage with the audience, whether through physical humour and slapstick or through singalongs. Both halves end with audience participation led by Enrique Sánchez-Ramos. who has a real gift in getting the most out of an audience in no rehearsal time at all. Not only was this all great fun, but it really served to demystify opera for many and remind us all that opera was not always a remote canon, but in many cases the popular music of its own original day.

So although the tone and content of the show is always light-touch, there is a serious message there that promoters of opera would do well to heed. We could all do with a dose of Opera Locos at regular intervals.


Peacock Theatre

Created & Directed by Ylana

Cast: Jesús Álvarez, Michaël Koné, María Rey-Joly, Enrique Sánchez-Ramos, Mayca Teba

Until 11 May 2024

1 hr 35 mins with interval