Last Friday, Hedda and I went to see La Boheme at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. An unlikely venue you might think for an opera, but for those of you who don’t know, this pub has a thriving theatre in a back room behind the bar.
As you might imagine, the theatre is neither grand nor large. The space seats about 60-80 people, with no room on stage for elaborate sets, a chorus or an orchestra. In fact there’s barely enough room to swing a contralto. But it was a fabulous setting for an updated version of Puccini’s popular classic performed by Opera Up Close.
This was no 19th century spectacle to be admired from the distant reaches of the auditorium of the Royal Opera House. Set in a grungy flat near Euston, with Mimi as a dying junkie desperate to get her next fix, the production was visceral and immediate. Our bodies literally resonated with the singers’ voices and the effect was electric.
We became part of the drama as the cast threaded their way through the audience into the tiny arena in which they lived and loved in our midst. As the story unfolded, we found ourselves laughing and weeping, not at the characters, but with them. It was as though our own joys and sorrows were taken up and amplified through their voices.
Unsurprisingly, the tragedy of Mimi’s early death stirred my grief over the loss of Chris and yet, it was Mimi’s joyous love duet with Rodolfo that echoed most strongly in my mind as Hedda and I walked out arm in arm. We paused for a moment on the pavement, to hold each other close. Then we hailed a cab and headed for home.
Omnia vincit amor, as Virgil said.
Love conquers all.