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So anyway,
Because what the Net really needs is another person sharing his uninformed views
Theatre review: La Bohème 
30th-Aug-2010 11:52 pm
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Disclaimer: I don't know anything about opera, so won't comment on the performers' voices etc; as many of the audience seemed older than the Soho Theatre's usual crowd I suppose a few more regular opera-goers were tempted to this alternative La Bohème, so I'll take it from their response that the performers did well. The opera-singing sounded like opera-singing to me, anyway, that much I can confidently say.

This "intimate" version of Puccini's opera actually started out a lot more intimately, and I'd heard good things from Andy who saw it at its original home, where it ran for six months. But that happened to be the Cock, a theatre where I somehow haven't felt entirely welcome since about this time last year, so I avoided the show until this transfer to Soho. Sung in English to a libretto by Robin Norton-Hale, who also directs, the action is moved to present-day London and the cast are in their twenties, as the characters were originally meant to be. So they sound like opera singers but don't look like them - at least a couple of the men are developing paunches so they're on the right track, but the women let the side down and you have to make do with two normal-sized ladies instead of one fat one. After a first act set in the apartment of Rodolfo and Marcello (Anthony Flaum, Nicolas Dwyer) comes the production's big gimmick. Under the pretence that there's an interval during which the entire audience has to leave for a scene-change, the action relocates to the Soho Theatre's bar downstairs where it plays in promenade. Through Andy I already knew about this but a lot of the audience seemed pleasantly surprised by it. It's fun, and amusing to see people walking past and be taken aback at an opera going on in a bar, but even resorting to my playtext programme (or libretto programme I guess?) I had trouble following any of what was being said. It probably doesn't help that for much of this act the singing overlaps.

Back to the theatre for the final two acts, and there's a lot of fun to be had in hearing opera sung not only in English but colloquial English. It's worth sitting in the front row like I did, (the company is called OperaUpClose after all) and Rosalind Coad as Mimi has a powerful voice although with her I more often than not had to consult the programme to know what she was saying (the men were overall easier to hear, I really liked Clare Presland as Musetta but in the bar scene I often had trouble making her lines out as well, so maybe it's just soprano voices I have trouble picking out words in.) Elsewhere I was distracted by how much Julien Debreuil, as Colline, looked like my friend Evil Alex.

Overall this hasn't really turned me around on opera - I knew it was through-sung but thought it occasionally resolved itself into arias etc, or maybe it's just La Bohème that's a bit short on familiar tunes? The modern setting works in some ways more than others - Norton-Hale hasn't gone in the Rent direction of updating the central illness, so although there's a couple of lines trying to explain why she's not getting any medical help, Mimi does essentially die of Period Drama Cough, for no good reason - maybe that's why I failed to engage emotionally with the finale. Overall though it's definitely worth seeing as something a bit different, done well. Certainly for opera buffs I imagine it's intriguing to see it done in a different way, but it works well enough as a piece of theatre too.

La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini in a version by Robin Norton-Hale is booking until the 4th of September at Soho Theatre.
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