In the five years I’ve lived here, going to an Opera has been on my London ‘to-do’ list. I hadn’t quite managed to achieve it though until the other week when I was invited to see La bohème at The English National Opera (ENO).
It was an exciting prospect to be seeing my first show at The Coliseum – the largest theatre in London where the ENO is now based. What’s more, I and a group of other writers, had also been invited for a pre-show tour, meaning we could see this spectacular theatre from where the actors see it – right on the stage.
Through a few side doors and sets of steps, in no time, we were backstage. The 2,359-capacity theatre was empty – bar one or two members of the production team – plus a couple of cello players and violinists in the orchestra who were bellowing out some last minute rehearsals at our feet.
The set was nothing spectacular at this time – it wasn’t quite ready for the opening scene of poet Rodolfo and his friends’ apartment, based in the Latin Quarter of Paris, but I could see the beginnings of what looked like an interesting set. And looking out at the vast theatre was really special. It offered a whole new perspective which you don’t see from your seat (I can’t imagine the actors’ pre-performance nerves). Plus it really opened my eyes to the magnificent interiors of The Coliseum.
One of the theatre staff explained how this is one of London’s best theatres for all-round views. Due to the cantilever architecture (the architects were quite ahead of their time when it was built at the turn of the century) there are no pillars to obstruct your view, even if you’re up in the heavens.
By the time we sat down for the first of four acts, the stage had been transformed with ambient candles and added props.
If you don’t already know about La bohème at the ENO, this is an adaptation of the original opera composed by Puccini. And as far as my opera knowledge goes, the original production based on Henri Murger’s novel, has been given a modern day twist by Australian director Benedict Andrews.
So as the production began, the audience was taken through the familiar story of a group of three ‘boho’ types living in Paris. However, whereas the orginal was based in the 1840s, this modern adaptation features 21st Century clothing, societal issues (Rodolfo and Mimi take heroine in the first act) and sets (modern day night clubs and restaurants).
I couldn’t quite understand what the drug scene added to the production if I’m honest, and I have to say, the emotion I expected to feel from the famous heart-wrenching love story of Mimi and Rodolfo wasn’t there.
That said, the vocal performances from Mimi (Corinne Winters) and Rodolfo (Zach Borichevsky) were incredible. As was the singing from characterful Musetta (Rhian Lois).
The set also goes through a very innovative series of changes, from a stage full of lively dance and a desolate night scene with snowfall, to a second apartment set where children play outside through a mirage of trees.
The first difference between this and a more traditional opera is that it’s all in English and has subtitles above the stage so you can fully understand the story. You will also find it’s around 2 and a half hours long, making it much shorter than your more traditional opera.
As a former musician, the orchestral music is often one of my favourite parts of a stage production t and this was true for La bohème (the conductor was Xian Zhang). I must say, La bohème has not quite turned me into an avid fan of opera. Perhaps it’s the modern twist or the fact I didn’t leave weeping. Nonetheless, it was an interesting experience and it has certainly whetted my appetite for a more traditional production in the not so far future.
Until next time x
Oh So London was invited to La bohème as part of this post. All views here are my own. For more information about The English National Opera, visit ENO.org, follow them on twitter @E_N_O and insta @EnglishNationalOpera and find them on Facebook. La bohème runs until 26 November – Find tickets here.