Impropera is a group of four singers and a pianist (with sometimes a co-opted second instrumentalist – in Thursday night’s performance, it was a flautist) who, as their portmanteau name suggests, improvise opera. In common with most improv shows, an evening consists of the audience shouting out themes and composers/styles/countries which the performers then improvise into solo arias, duets, instrumental items, or an entire short opera (traditionally forming the second half of the evening).
On Thursday evening, then, the audience was treated to a chat-up line in the style of Handel, a Weill-esque aria on an egg-beater in cod-Albanian, a French chanson sung by a bilby (an Australian marsupial, in case you were wondering), a piano and flute duet on ‘Oh what a beautiful morning’ in the styles of Mozart, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich and Leonard Cohen, an aria in the style of Gershwin about an addiction to terrapins, and a Rossini scena on a collapsed roof. The one-act opera (‘The Ridiculous Mayor of Berlin’) included musical allusions to Monteverdi, Donizetti, Britten, Adams, Mussorgsky and Elton John.
The short show was entertaining in a genteel way; certainly there was talent on display, in terms of quick wit and readiness to understand style. But some of the performers were quicker-witted than others (the resultant mumbling from those who were a bit left behind was a touch embarrassing), and some of the performers more musical than others (an ability to discern key, one would have thought, was essential to this kind of performance). The voice quality, too, wasn’t always what would be expected from opera spoof (compared, for example, with the tremendously clever vocal jokes of the sadly defunct La Grand Scena opera company) – it was sometimes more of a haphazard cabaret-style (especially from the male singers).
Granted, there are a lot of plates to keep spinning for this kind of a performance – and to combine the complexities of operatic style along with words and humour is a skill to be applauded – but when all of the plates drop at the same time, it can be unfortunate. Of all the performers, it was arguably the pianist who contributed most to the audience’s appreciation of musical style (alas, at times, the flautist seemed to be somewhat adrift). Ultimately a curate’s egg of an evening.