‘We have, I am afraid to say, come across one of those technical difficulties that happen every so often in performances: we have a piece of scenery that is supposed to rotate, and due to power faults, it’s simply not rotating. But rather than exclude this part from our dress rehearsal, we have come up with a solution – we will rotate the set manually.’
So said the director of the ENO mid-way through La Bohème’s dress rehearsal last night at the London Coliseum. The second half thus opened with members of the cast, and a few helping hands from behind the scenes, pushing what looked like a very heavy piece of set so it rotated. Obviously, were it to do this of its own accord –aka fuelled by electricity rather than people power – it would have been a spectacle. The sight of a few opera singers making some substantial scenery spin, however, was priceless.
Attending a dress rehearsal of any kind comes with the possibility that things could go wrong – after all, a major aim of these runs are to make sure everything is going smoothly ready for the opening night. But despite this minor glitch, ENO’s latest production of La Bohème was a resounding success.
The production has an almost Shoreditch vibe: a warehouse style apartment which houses several creatives is the basis for the opera’s development. Lacking enough cash to keep warm (cue setting alight to the writer’s scripts) and pay rent (cue getting the landlord very drunk), the men in question muddle through on a chilly Christmas eve before braving the cold and venturing into town for a celebratory meal. Enter Mimi, the beautiful, if slightly sick, neighbour, and the start of the love story.
Far be it for me to begin to imagine what Puccini intended with his 1890’s opera, but I’m pretty sure that heroine injections, shopping trollies loaded with Tesco goods, and helium balloons didn’t feature. They do, however, make a successful appearance in this new interpretation; bringing the production right up to date and appealing to a slightly younger and arguably more ‘hipster’ audience.
As would be expected with a Puccini opera, the music is exquisite. This is the sort of music you’ll be humming on the tube home, and the accompanying translations were, on occasion, unforgettable (look out for the landlord’s ‘I’m sixty and sexy’). Walking out of the Coliseum after this show, I felt like I’d simultaneously been to a classical music concert, watched a dramatic soap on TV, attended a cinema screening of the latest tragic film, and admired a moving and atmospheric art installation. In short – this is value for money. This modern performance turns expectations of Puccini on their head, and I urge even avid opera-avoiders to watch this fantastic production (Shoreditch hipsters included).