Monday, 22 March 2010


15/3/10, Cock Tavern, Kilburn

The famous opera performed in a room above a pub (and, in the case of the second act, set in a cafe, in the pub bar itself). It was a somewhat truncated version (I seem to recall a marching band appears in Act 2 of full-scale productions) but compelling if flawed.

I got there late and they wouldn't let me upstairs for Act 1. Later I understood why since there was barely room to squeeze between the piano and the seating on the way in, and I'd have had to walk across the front of the stage to find a seat.

The set-up had both pluses and minuses. The big plus was that, with young singers, on a stage the size of a typical bedsit and in modern dress, the drama itself was more convincing than I've ever seen it. Watch it at ENO with more than 2,000 other people performed on a stage the size of an aircraft carrier and, however good the production and the acting, it's hard to find these freezing, poverty-stricken youngsters convincing. Here there was no difficulty.

As a result it was genuinely moving; D appeared after Act 1 with red eyes demanding my handkerchief; Mimi's death left me choked. Too often in operas you know how you should be reacting, but the responses, if there at all, are deliberately engineered rather than spontaneous.

The minuses included the incredibly cramped seating and the fact that, at full blast, the singers' voices were just too loud for such a confined space. They were much better (ie more convincing and less painful to listen to) when singing more quietly. The exception was down in the noisy bar, with ageing Irish pool players down the far end making a racket, where the volume helped.

The singing was good except for a very windy Musetta.

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