The pleasant strains of Wagner‘s Der fliegender Holländer (The Flying Dutchman, with all due credit to both Shazam and Standard Grade German) sets the tone for the Opera Comedy Show, a fun and accessible introduction to the artform performed by professional soprano Steph DePrez.
If opera is regarded as a niche concern in this country, then a comedy show about opera is niche squared. In other words, pure Fringe. DePrez is seeking to demystify opera, and strip away the thick crust of elitism and pretension which most people assume surrounds it. The charming, voluble singer performs (beautifully) a selection of famous arias from the likes of Tannhäuser, La bohème, and La forza del destino, while breaking down their context and the emotions being experienced by the character she’s embodying. For example, ‘O mio Babbino Caro’ from Puccini‘s Gianni Schicchi is one massive teenage strop about a boy, albeit one performed with the gravitas afforded by possessing a diaphragm like a blacksmith’s bellows.
Steph breaks up these recitals with some gentle stand-up about how she became an opera singer, her experience as an American living in Germany, and, unexpectedly, the glottal benefits of Italian and French on blow job technique. If such material sounds jarring to this backdrop – and there is a murmur of disbelief from the crowd – it’s all part of DePrez’s mission to chip away at that lingering highbrow aura. DePrez herself is an informative and patient guide. She never assumes any prior knowledge, and even demonstrates some techniques with some willing volunteers. And when she sings, the power and control she uses to be heard over a full orchestra in the concert halls of Berlin really pin back the ears in the basement of a pub in Tollcross.
Steph DePrez may not be the most polished comedian, but The Opera Comedy Show is a very nice lunchtime distraction for those willing to get slightly of the beaten track, and her enthusiasm and musical skill are infectious. Above all, it hammers home how little our cultural lives are valued, despite the vast contribution the arts make to the country.
The Opera Comedy Show runs until Sun 27 Aug 2023 at Laughing Horse @Home Bar at 13:00