Opera Undone: Tosca & La bohème


Kings Head Theatre at Riverside Studio 2 (venue)

17 February 2020 (released)

17 February 2020

Opera Undone is aimed at an audience who are not regular opera goers but will probably have heard of Puccini and his most famous works, Tosca and La Boheme. They need to be adventurous souls who are not scared off by a small space filled with the loud voices of well-trained singers, virtually no set, and a story that, in the case of La Boheme, takes serious liberties with the characters, while hanging on to the traditional operatic plot of thwarted love followed by tragic death. It is opera for a modern age and, as that, highly successful.

The two hour production leads with a Tosca that dramatically encompasses the horror facing a passionate lover when the only means to save her partner’s life is to accede to his vile torturer’s sexual demands. Not exactly a Weinstein story but enough echoes to make it feel up to date, particularly when the wicked Scarpia is dressed in a pin-stripe suit with a handkerchief in his upper pocket and a homburg on his partly shaven head. Baritone Michael Georgiou makes this part his own as he towers threateningly above everyone else in the theatre space and forces his confident baritone above Tosca’s desperate pleas.

Confidence is indeed the name of the game when there is only an hour to go from playful love to murder and the death of both principals. Like Georgiou, Fiona Finsbury sings and acts Tosca with utter conviction. Her strong, fluid soprano establishes her character as dominant to her lover, Cavaradossi. But tenor Roger Paterson has a sweetness of tone that suggest a hero’s virtue, even if he doesn’t get much of a chance for heroic action before being dragged away to the cells.

Opera performed so briefly does have a tendency towards comedy. In Tosca this is kept under control. In the second production of La Boheme comedy is used to involve the audience and raise the energy. Despite the story being another one of ultimate despair and death, there is enough leeway for the bohemians, particularly Melissa sung and acted with seductive energy by Honey Rouhani, to prod the audience into laughter.

The most famous aria in La Boheme is ‘Your tiny hand is frozen’ as the hero, Rodolfo, woos Mimi on their first meeting. He sings it again as Mimi dies of tuberculosis in his arms. The opera has been reinterpreted over the decades in many ways and Opera Undone is not the first to make Mimi a man, a drug addict, whose descent into self-destruction, cannot be saved even by the love of Rodolfo. Both tenors, Roger Paterson and Phillip Lee make the most of Puccini’s beautiful arias while their friend, Marcus, sung by Hugo Herman Wilson allows welcome breaks in the tension.

Director, Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Musical Director David Easton have jointly written these new English versions of the opera. They also credit singer Phillip Lee for artistic support in creating the libretto. This suggests that this is a co-operative venture, underlined by the swapping of parts within the cast on different evenings. If the majesty of the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera have nothing to fear from Opera Undone, it nevertheless offers a new form of operatic entertainment which has rightfully won a place in London’s theatreland.

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