French and Saunders did a wonderful sketch, with Sarah Walker and Carl Davis, in which the pair spoofed opera divas self-consciously ‘doing comedy’ and sang a piece by Kylie Minogue.

There’s a constant danger of straying into this territory whenever fringe companies apply a layer of jokiness to their classical repertoire: it works best when the performers’ acting skills are the absolute equal of their vocals, but can be blown by any stiffness or ‘look-at-me, I’m-being-funny’ in the characterisations.

PopUp Opera is a great outfit full of energy and enthusiasm, and its choice of unusual venues is unrivalled and constantly being extended – the current mix includes crypts, tunnels, vineyards and a garlic farm on the Isle of Wight.  I really loved their four-handed Le Docteur Miracle in a disused power-shed in Hackney Wick (AudioBoom with @paulinlondon here) and which had the same am-dram improvisations and silent-movie type captions instead of surtitles which is more than enough to catch the drift of most operas. Mostly.

It’s never wise to dissect opera plots but when they’re as much of a cobbler’s job as L’Italiana in Algeri there’s even less point because 21-year-old Rossini didn’t write either the story or the libretto, and allegedly subcontracted the recitative and a couple of the arias too in order to complete it in three weeks.

Transposed to the Algiers Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, a sleazeball called Mustafa can’t decide between his possibly past-it wife, and potential nightmare squeeze but tries to marry the wife off to a gambling buddy who owes him money and then the gambler’s girlfriend pitches in… no, sorry, that’s the point I lost it and decided it was better to enjoy the music than try to make sense of what’s happening. Doesn’t the original have loads of pirates and a shipwreck? Not sure where they disappeared in a cast of six in the middle of the Nevada desert, but I thought if they made it topical the Corsairs could be running migrant boats between North Africa and Sicily.

Musically it’s fine, the steady pizzicato followed by an urgent crash in the orchestra – Rossini was inspired by Haydn’s Surprise Symphony – is hard to replicate on one electronic keyboard and cries out for some strings, but MD Berrak Dyer managed it with style and grace, scarcely faltering even when she accidentally turned over two pages at once.

There are two rotating casts: I enjoyed Oliver Brignall‘s clean and well-phrased tenor best among the men especially in Ah come il cor di giubilo, and felt the quartets worked better than some individual arias where a round stone tunnel shaft with a metal roof may not be the kindest acoustic.

Still need to work on the acting, chaps, but undeniably an enjoyable evening.