In the pleasantly obsessive ukulele collective we all belong to not a day goes by without us talking about sopranos and tenors. Opera-lele however go one step beyond, for that not only applies to the instruments themselves but also to the talented operatic voices of the people that play them.
(I can hear Professor Gavin Bryars leaning over my music student shoulders subtly pointing out it should be “mezzo soprano”… Yes yes, I know, but you know, ukuleles, sopranos. I stand by my 2:2 proudly.)
It’s always a pleasure to find fusion in music as I believe experimentation to be the origin of evolution in any art form. Through Opera-lele, professional performers George Bartle and Amanda Harkett have taken their passion for the ukulele and married it to their crisp and wonderful classically trained voices to conjure up a rather endearing crossover.
With this, their début release, George has arranged a number of famous arias and duets including Papageno-Papagena (Mozart’s The Magic Flute) and Habanera (Bizet’s Carmen). Indeed most tracks on this album will be familiar to all, regardless of their operatic knowledge, and there lies the key to the charm of this release. Accessibility. Opera can be a difficult genre to enjoy but here Opera-lele’s approach of taking familiar melodies to power over the accustomed sound of a ukulele duet opens up the genus in a thoroughly pleasing manner. That’s not to say the performance has in any way watered down the power of the music, far from it. The gentle underlying ukulele carries these magnificent voices exquisitely, casting an almost Spanish tint onto the pieces and frankly it’s quite astonishing to hear how firmly the uke arrangements support these melodic masterpieces.
The final track on the album is Duetto buffo di due gatti (“Humorous duet for two cats”). This is a traditional encore piece mostly due to it’s light-hearted lyrical content consisting purely of “meow”, perhaps a little nod to the wit of a certain different persona of Mr Bartle?
The ukulele has always worked well to my ears as a classical instrument, punching far above it’s diminutive stature. Opera-lele have galloped forward with this concept to create something far beyond a curious experiment and produced a truly delightful and genuinely engaging genre and I for one will be packing my Opera-lele glasses for their imminent and no doubt captivating performance at GNUF!
To be succinct, this album is tremendous! Bravo! Encore! Encore!