Pop-Up Opera are in the middle of touring Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. The Mumble managed to catch up with Clementine Lovell for a few words.
Hi Clementine, where were you from and where are you living today?
Hello! I grew up in a small village in Herefordshire, playing outdoors on farms and in the woods with my siblings. There was nowhere nearby or affordable to see opera which is partly what has inspired me to bring opera to rural communities around the UK. I now live in north London with my husband Harry and our 23 month old son Innes, and run the company from here. I love London because of the network of friends, fellow parents, musicians, and creative people around me, and constantly meeting new people to collaborate with and share ideas. That said, I love going home to the countryside and seeing my family whenever I can.
When did you begin to understand you had a gift for music?
Singing has been there from my very earliest memories. I sang all the time, to myself, my brothers, anyone who would listen (sorry extended family). We did a lot of music and singing at the Steiner school where I went age 3-14. Our family holidays were always to the SW of Ireland and I began performing folk music in the pubs there aged 10, singing and playing piano accordion. If you could stop the noisy people at the bar talking with a song you knew it was a good one. There was always music playing in our house, mainly folk and blues, but my paternal Grandfather took me to classical concerts from very young. I studied with the soprano Elizabeth Ritchie from age 12 and she was a gift, a wonderful teacher and supporter. I won a music scholarship to a boarding school under her guidance and discovered the exhilaration of choral music as well as beginning to study opera.
Can you tell us about your studies in Italy? Does this mean Italian opera is your favourite?
I graduated from the Guildhall School of Music but felt like my languages were holding me back from the next step in my career. I’d always felt a connection with Italy and the Italian language and repertoire. I decided the best way to learn would be to live there.
Plus, any excuse! Harry and I moved out there with no Italian, no jobs, no money, it was a bit scary, but we made a life there and ended up staying two years. I found a wonderful teacher Romina Vigne and taught in a local school to pay the bills. I performed my first opera roles there and just absorbed the language and culture. Opera is very broadly appreciated there and doesn’t have the same elitist reputation that puts many people off here. Everyone goes and they aren’t reverential about it. This is a huge part of what inspired me to set up Pop-Up Opera. Italian is still my favourite language to sing opera in but not necessarily always my favourite opera genre. I’m absolutely loving hearing our cast perform Hansel & Gretel in German at the moment, the music is sublime and the evening prayer makes me cry every
As a soprano, what are the secrets to delivering a good performance?
I think for any performer it’s passion and drive, studying and knowing the piece inside out, communicating to an audience but letting them come to you, letting go of self consciousness, looking after yourself, and also having a supportive team around you helps a lot.
What are your favourite operas to both watch & to perform in?
I absolutely loved performing in the bel canto operas L’elisir d’amore and Don Pasquale, and also Giulietta in I Capuleti was a dream role. There are many operas I love watching; the enjoyment often comes from the quality of the production and the performers as wellb as the opera itself.
What is your favourite aria to sing?
Singing Mozart is always an absolute joy. I loved singing Giulietta’s aria O Quante Volte, it’s so beautiful and raw. Giulietta is the last role I did, when Innes was three months old. Since then performing opera has had to take a back seat. The company has grown a lot and we are now doing around 90 performances a year. Running it and producing our shows and tours is a full time job and we are a small team with a growing output. Plus I’m running around after a toddler! The company is so important to me and I want to put
everything into building it. Part of me will always be a performer, but I am singing more folk music again at the moment, which I absolutely love.
What do you like to do when you’re not being musical?
I love walking, swimming in the sea, spending time with friends, eating and drinking, dancing, reading, reading to my son, exploring new places, listening to music and going to concerts and gigs.
Can you tell us about Pop-Up Opera?
We take opera to places where you wouldn’t normally find it and to people who wouldn’t normally watch it. The aims of the company came initially from my experiences. Folk music is generally very inclusive but opera is often viewed as inaccessible. Friends often dismissed opera as not their thing, one even claimed to be “allergic” to it. I wanted to prove them wrong, to show them that opera could be magical, hilarious, devastating or moving. I started with my uncle’s cider barn and put on an opera there for a largely nonopera going audience. They loved it. It made me think about how the setting can have a bearing on people’s enjoyment, or their willingness to give it a go. The venue has a bearing on the performance itself, and each new space presents a challenge. The production grows and evolves as it pops up in different places. We stage it in the rehearsal room and then adapt it to embrace each venue, so every night is different. The performance spaces vary wildly in size, shape, acoustic, and feeling. We get in to the space on the day and start working out the entrances, exits, how to involve the audience…. The performers have to think on their feet, and be willing to allow some freedom and spontaneity. This keeps it fresh and creates a very special atmosphere. Our projected captions have become part of our signature style. We believe that you can still make opera accessible when performed in the original language. The music, the intentions of the actors, the interaction between the characters, and the power of the drama get the story across. The captions are there to compliment, not to detract. They keep the audience broadly abreast of the story but don’t demand their attention all the time. With a comedy, the captions can add another layer of humour, and we can play around with the modern context.
Can you tell us about your creative relationship with Fiona Johnston?
I run the company with my business partner and co-producer, Fiona Johnston. My partnership with her, and the work we have put in to building the company and the relationships with our venues forms its foundation. She is an amazing person who puts everything into what she does and is brilliant at it. She came on board as our stage manager and then started helping my out with the producing side of things. We work very well together and bounce off each other creatively. We think alike and yet bring different things to the mix. We both care deeply about the company and have a shared artistic vision for it.
Pop-Up Opera are touring Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel this Autumn. Why this
We have honed our ability to boil an opera down to its essence: the music, the drama and the relationships between characters is what brings the story to life. Working on a fairytale is exciting because it’s one of the most beloved forms of storytelling, and offers both moments of comedy and layers of darkness. It also is very atmospheric in the amazing spaces we go to.
How is this particular opera standing up after a century?
Our production has a modern aesthetic and narrative, but the fairytale of Hansel & Gretel is timeless. It’s a story everyone knows and can relate to on some level. It taps into our sense of playfulness, our childhood selves, our fears for our children and about the world.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Pop-Up Opera?
We are touring Hansel & Gretel until late November, and are very excited to include the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green as well as two performances at the the V&A Kensington as part of their new exhibition ‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics’. We are
excited to collaborate with the Royal Opera House Learning and Participation department to bring young people from the Youth Opera Company to see the production. The Asylum in Peckham will be an amazing atmospheric venue for Hansel & Gretel. Simultaneously, we are busy programming the tours for next year, liaising with both regular and new venues. It’s an exciting time for the company, and we have lots of ideas and plans brewing. Watch this space!
10.10.17 : V&A MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD – BETHNAL GREEN
14.10.17 : VERA FLETCHER HALL – THAMES DITTON, SURREY
15.10.17 : EAST FINCHLEY ARTS FESTIVAL – LONDON
19.10.17 : LONDON MUSEUM OF WATER AND STEAM – KEW, LONDON
21.10.17 : ANNE OF CLEVES BARN – ESSEX
25.10.17: THE REGAL THEATRE – MINEHEAD, SOMERSET
27.10.17: PORT REGIS SCHOOL – DORSET
01.11.17 : THE INTERNATIONAL ANTHONY BURGESS FOUNDATION – MANCHESTER
02.11.17: BREWERY ARTS CENTRE – KENDAL, LAKE DISTRICT
04.11.17 : LOURDES HALL, HARPENDEN
05.11.17 : ASYLUM – PECKHAM, LONDON
11.11.17 & 12.11.17: COURT GARDENS FARM: DITCHLING, EAST SUSSEX
14.11.17: FITZWILLIAM COLLEGE AUDITORIUM – CAMBRIDGE
18.11.17 & 19.11.17 : V&A MUSEUM – LONDON