Opera loving newcomers to London might make the forgivable assumptions that (a) London opera takes place at Covent Garden and in the Coliseum, (b) opera is an expensive thing built on a large scale and (c) the operatic world shuts down in August.

Forgivable, but wrong. This year, so far, London has seen performances from over twenty other opera companies with all shapes of repertoire and all sizes of budget: the scene could hardly be more thriving. And for the first two weeks of August, we can add the name of Time Zone Theatre to the list, with their festival entitled “Opera In The City”, to be performed at Bridewell Theatre, next door to the Christopher Wren designed St Bride’s Church in the heart of the City of London.

The festival steers well clear of “same old” standard repertoire, and within its four shows, there’s plenty of variety to tempt any operagoer looking for the unusual, with operas from around 1900 (Time Zone tag these with the name of their “Fin de Siècle” project), a double bill of experimental works, and a one-hander “opera-musical” which promises to pile on the schmaltz.

A century and a half before Peter Shaffer based his play Amadeus on the legend that Mozart died of poisoning at the hands of the jealous Antonio Salieri, Alexander Pushkin got there first, with his short play Mozart and Salieri. In 1897, Rimsky-Korsakov turned Pushkin’s work into an opera for two voices (although a baritone role, Salieri was originally sung by the great bass of the day, Feodor Chaliapin). Stepping into Chaliapin’s shoes will be baritone Nick Dwyer, with Mozart sung by tenor Roger Paterson. With neat symmetry, Mozart and Salieri will be presented as one half of a double bill, the second half being another two-hander, but for female voices: Pietro Mascagni’s Zanetto. Where Rimsky’s opera tells of fatal antipathy, Zanetto is a wistful, bittersweet encounter between a wandering minstrel and a courtesan, who might be the woman of his dreams had she not renounced love. Becca Marriott is the courtesan Silvia, Sophie Goldrick takes on the trouser role of her would-be lover.

Nick Dwyer and Becca Marriott in <i>A Florentine Tragedy</i>
Nick Dwyer and Becca Marriott in A Florentine Tragedy
The two operas are directed by festival director Pamela Schermann, who promises an “original, innovative and captivating” production and also directs the other “Fin de Siècle” offering: Alexander von Zemlinsky’s A Florentine Tragedy, based on an unfinished play by Oscar Wilde. A pot-boiling tale of a cuckolded husband’s fury and revenge is set to music of true Late Romantic lusciousness.

If you’re searching for new operatic experiences and 1900 is way too old hat for you, the show for you is the festival’s closing show: the double bill of Simone Spagnolo’s Even you, lights, cannot hear me and Sara Toth’s Nero Monologues, both of which combine opera with other art forms. Taking his text from Chekhov, Spagnolo asks you to imagine “a spaceless world, where a two-headed creature sings, in perpetual motion” and promises “a glimpse of life after the world’s end” (the work is intriguingly scored for “two opera singers doubling on piano and pebbles”). Toth combines poetry with music from sources as diverse as Monteverdi, Handel, Copland and Kurtág, attempting the improbable feat of “a humanised portrayal of Nero”.

Last but not least: the diametrical opposite of such challenging, avant garde fare is to immerse yourself into a good, solid dose of nostalgia in the shape of Lanza, Andrew Bain’s one man biopic in which Mario Lanza “sets the record straight” about his career. If you don’t remember Lanza, he was a huge star in the 1950s, taking the title role in the movie The Great Caruso, which did as much as anything to bring opera into the consciousness of a wide public: both José Carreras and Plácido Domingo have cited him as one of the reasons they became operatic tenors. To get a feel for the man’s artistry, look no further than this clip of him singing “La donna è mobile”:

Having started out as a dentist, Bain has built an impressive singing career, and this show will combine some of Lanza's opera hits with light music classics such as Granada and Lanza’s first million-selling hit Be my Love.


This preview was sponsored by the Opera in the City Festival, which runs from August 1st-12th at the Bridewell Theatre. You can see full listings here.