(c) Simon Kane
Opera has never come to Soho before but this is no ordinary opera. The Soho Theatre is hosting OperaUpClose’s production of La Bohème after the show’s successful five-month run at Kilburn’s Cock Tavern. The Broadway musical Rent updated the story for the 20th century and director Robin Norton-Hale’s adaptation of the original takes it into the 21st: the language (“chav!”), its references (Jamie Oliver, George Osborne) and the props (including an iBook) are all contemporary while the sets are minimal and the score has been scaled right back with only piano playing accompanying the singers.
Norton-Hale’s plot sticks closely to the original, telling the tale of Rodolfo, a writer (in this case for a website) who lives with his twenty-something student friends. One night he meets his neighbour, Mimi. Mimi and Rodolfo fall in love but heartbreak and death lie ahead – this is opera: were you expecting anything else?
All of the parts are played by trained opera singers who work without mikes or amps and in casual clothing. The cast changes each night but we enjoyed Benjamin Seifert’s Marcello with his moody insouciance and killer scowl. Claire Presland’s vacillating siren Musetta was fun and sexy while David Friedman as her older lover was the best actor on the night with his bittersweet performance.
We loved the cheeky second act. Part of the act’s appeal is the surprise element (even for those who know the plot) so all we’ll say is that it allows the audience to get up close and personal with the performers Punchdrunk-style while demonstrating the skill and power behind the performers’ voices.
This is opera a la Gok Wan: stripped down, pumped up and thoroughly modern. It will no doubt irk puritanical purists but it will appeal to everyone else. It will be showing at the Soho Theatre until September 4. Tickets and more information are available here.
Also currently at the Soho Theatre: Our Lady J