by Giacomo Puccini
Opera Up Close at Soho Theatre Dean Street To 20 February 2011.
Runs 2hr One interval.
Review: Martin Franks 5 February.
Raw, emotional ‘not-to-be-missed’ Sung Theatre. Surely it must tour.
Opera Up Close’s fabulously earthy, modern interpretation of La Boheme. It’s already been written about extensively by the national press (and nominated for a couple of awards!). And not surprisingly; it’s a knockout.
Probably not for the opera purist, for me however it was the essence of emotional theatre expressed through raw, gut-thundering song. And if you don’t cry by the end, you’re probably thinking too much. Why not let yourself go a bit?
Yes, it was slightly irritating that the cast kept talking about how cold they were when dressed for a warm Spring day (it’s supposed to be a freezing cold Christmas Eve). Yes, you had to suspend your disbelief that Mimi, transposed to the job of a cleaner living in contemporary Soho, could possibly die nowadays on a flat-share sofa from consumption. But that’s not really the point. When I checked the story from Puccini’s original (sorry purists – I don’t know it off by heart) I was surprised how close the OUC version was – a neighbour whose light had gone out, a searched-for key and the beautiful ‘This Tiny Hand is Frozen’ sung in half light and then forward into the tear-jerking melodrama.
Laurence Meikle’s muscular, articulate Marcello gets us off to just the right start in his exchange with the thrillingly powerful, if slightly muddily spoken Rodolfo. Immediately we knew that we had a chamber opera performance where we were actually supposed to hear and understand the libretto and it was amusing and thrilling in equal measure.
The cleverness of Robin Norton-Hale’s translation (freely conveying the essence rather than the precise when required) brought to the audience all the picturesque fabric of this tale of young bohemians as it was transposed into a contemporary Soho – and I assume when they performed it in Kilburn they made references to that locale. What fun they’re going to have with the text if they tour (surely they must)! Eleanor Jane Moran’s innocent, open Mimi touched the heartstrings immediately and laid the foundation for a believable whirlwind romance. Julien Debreuil’s Colline, a philosophy teacher heading for politics, was another clear, believable member of the young male bedsit tribe of housemates.
And Thomas Kennedy’s Schaunard was a highly believable musician – obsessive and sensitive in equal part. And then we have Clare Pressland’s sexy Musetta! What a triumphant entry in the second act with a totally authentic manipulation of the comicly played rich Alcindoro (Barnaby Rea) – a tremendous counterpoint to the sweet romance, and a pitched-perfect seductress of the bewitched Marcello.
The surprises in the setting were a wonderful use of total theatre ideas and the piano playing of the cut-down score by Andrew Charity (Musical Director) was a triumph of energy and pathos, melding beautifully with the small-scale but large-ambition nature of this great piece of theatre. Definitely sell your Grandmother to get a ticket.
Mimi: Eleanor Jane Moran.
Musetta: Clare Presland.
Rodolfo: Gareth Morris.
Marcello: Laurence Meikle.
Schaunard: Thomas Kennedy.
Colline: Julien Debreuil.
Benoit/Alcindoro: Barnaby Rea.
Director: Robin Norton-Hale.
Musical Director: Andrew Charity.