An opera written in Italian by an Italian, set in France, and now – courtesy of the English National Opera – sung in English. There is a certain amount of controversy over the translation of opera from its original language, but the ENO exists to do that very thing. All its productions are performed in English. The occasional diehard traditionalist can be found who will criticise this, and perhaps on occasions it doesn’t quite come off. But when it does, it certainly brings a whole new dimension to the performance for those of us who have English as our first language. The ENO’s home is the Coliseum Theatre in St Martin’s Lane near Trafalgar Square, opened in 1904. The ENO has been there since 1968. Here’s a factoid: this theatre has the widest proscenium arch in London – and an extremely sumptuous purple velvet curtain.
Last night I went to hear and see a wonderful favourite of the opera repertoire, Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’, with Greeba, a visitor from Opera Australia (it’s so lovely to have visitors!) Even non-opera enthusiasts will recognise the story, which is about four poor students living in a garret in Paris: a poet, a painter, a musician and a philosopher. Rodolfo the poet meets Mimi, a poor seamstress (her tiny hand is frozen). Marcello the painter has a flight girlfriend named Musetta, and it is mid-winter. We move from joie de vivre to mélancolie when it emerges that Mimi has consumption, of which she eventually dies. The opera was one of the earliest to be about the lives of ordinary people rather than royalty or mythical figures. It was first performed in 1896 and has remained immensely popular. The Broadway show ‘Rent’ is, I believe, based on the same story.
Greeba and I were agreed that the English version was a great success. The librettist was Amanda Holden (she of ‘Bliss’ fame) and what a clever and marvellous job she did. The singers were excellent, but Rodolfo, the tenor, quite stole the show: Gwyn Hughes Jones. Elizabeth Llewellyn is Mimi, the director is Jonathan Miller and I loved the production, set squarely in a wintery 1920s French cityscape.
You can read about the production and see a trailer here: ENO site
Greeba and I enjoyed a yummy pre-theatre meal at Les Deux Salons just around the corner from the theatre in William IV Street, completing the French theme for the evening. This is entirely appropriate, since tomorrow morning Evan and I are joining the Eurostar that we can see from our window and travelling off to Paris for three days. The tickets are actually about the same price as those to Leicester a couple of weeks ago – it will take about two hours. It’s irresistible.