Grant Museum of Zoology
Reviewed – 8th March 2018
“I’ve never seen a historian cry with laughter before”
An evening with a difference! Impropera have teamed up with scientists to create a wonderful merger between bonkers improvised opera and fascinating, fun science talks. The event took place at the Grant Museum of Zoology, part of University College London. The museum is full of all kinds of specimens including a fossilised pterodactyl, several tapeworms and a walrus penis bone. It’s one of those largely unknown London curiosities that are definitely worth a visit, even without the entertainment. When we arrived we were given a glass of wine and invited to wander round and enjoy the museum for a while. And then the fun started.
Impropera are a superbly talented group of four singers, Phillip Pellew, Nick Alain, Louise Craine and Susan Bisatt. with pianist Anthony Ingle and reed player Pete Furniss. The first song of the evening was inspired by an audience member’s love of the rock python skeleton and involved Pellew ‘becoming’ the python while the other three improvised a tragic love story. The audience was in stitches from the first notes. Being so close to professional opera singers is an experience in itself!
Chiara Ambrosio is a historian of the History of Science, and she spoke about the museum and its founder Robert Grant, a nineteenth century naturalist who influenced the young Charles Darwin and collected the specimens that form the museum. In a homage to International Women’s Day, she also talked about women scientists who didn’t get recognition for their work, including Mary Lyell who was an accomplished geologist who helped Darwin with his study of barnacles. An intriguing ‘mini-lecture’ from Vulcanologist Carina Fearnley inspired operatic improvisations on the theme of certain death from pyroclastic flow and the last moments of Pliny the Elder.
The highlight of the evening was the final improvisation. Ambrosio picked a mystery object from the collection, and the singers took it in turns to sing about what it was – or wasn’t, culminating in Pellow’s epic musical description of it as an ancient Roman butt plug. I’ve never seen a historian cry with laughter before. The mystery object was actually a fossilised sea creature.
Muso will return to the Grant Museum later in the year, and are heading for the Wallace Collection soon. I will be going!
Reviewed by Katre
Grant Museum of Zoology