Professor James interview

How did it all begin?

It all began (as it usually does for us opera bods) with the music.  La Serva Padrona is the perfect opera for kids.  It’s short; it’s simple; and it’s very sweet – if by sweet, you mean funny, and if by funny, you mean remarkably silly.  It’s an opera that’s been part of my opera career right from the beginning as it was the first work I ever directed – at college – but there was so much I wanted to do with it.

The idea for making it into a Punch & Judy show hit me just over a year ago.  I was in Rome at the top of the Janiculum hill with my two-year-old daughter and – overlooking the sights of the city – there was a Punch & Judy booth, playing a traditional Italian Punchinello show.  My little one (who has an attention span about as long as her own little toe) was hooked.  She wanted to watch the whole thing – over, and over again – despite the fact it was in Italian.

As I watched with her, all I could think was – what if the quirky little Italian Opera I loved so much could be knotted into this addictive childhood world of Punch & Judy?

Uberto (renamed Hubert in this English adaptation) and Serpina are so much like the iconic troubled couple.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to reframe the whole thing as a puppet show, with the opera singing characters manipluated into their ridiculous romance by the entourage of Punch & Judy characters.

And so began my search for the perfect Mr Punch partner.

After hours on the internet trundling through profiles of various professors, I found Professor James of London Punch and Judy.

We met in a pub, and over several pints we began to weave together the woolly worlds of opera and Mr Punch.  Professor James opened up my vision to include crocodiles, doctors, policemen, devils and angels and all the tricks of the Punch & Judy trade.  We began to recreate Pergolesi’s 400-year-old opera as a pantomime puppet funfair for little ones.

Does Mr Punch sing?

Sadly not!  But…there is a singing policeman; so, it’s worth a watch just for that.  (I think Pan and I would be up for giving him a little lesson on YouTube if he fancied it!)

How did the singers find working with the puppets?

I think they were a bit disappointed they wouldn’t be getting right inside the booth and taking Professor James’ job.

Seriously though – Opera singers are very focussed creatures, often spending hours alone in rooms perfecting their technique and obsessing over the tiniest details.  To throw themselves into the slapstick land of Punch & Judy was really refreshing.  Grace and Matt, our wonderful Serpina and Hubert came out of the week declaring they’d had more fun-making opera than ever before.

And strangely – we all realised that being a Professor is not so different from beign an opera singer after all – and that Punch & Judy professors are also “very focussed creatures, often spending hours alone in rooms perfecting their technique and obsessing over the tiniest details.”

To have a week of pure collaboration to create something so joyous was wonderful!

Was it a hit with the kids?

Absolutely!  Not only were they engrossed, but they were desperate to join in.  There was shouting, pointing, singing along and a lot of energy.  In the words of one of them – “That show was awesome!”

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