Opera Undone: Tosca & La bohème
The King’s Head Theatre artistic director Adam Spreadbury-Maher injects new life into Giacomo Puccini’s famous operas Tosca and La Bohème. Opera Undone is the first production to open in the West End from the Islington pub theatre. The project makes for a wonderful introduction to classic operas and is a fun, fresh interpretation that ought to be seen by fans of the genre and newbies alike. Modernised and condensed into two one-hour shows, both of the two operas are rewritten to fit a contemporary setting and are sung in English.
The double bill starts with Tosca. Set in 1940s New York, it begins with artist Mario Cavaradossi (Roger Paterson) painting a portrait of a lady whose brother, Angelotti – a man hunted by the mafia – Mario is trying to help escape. Mario’s girlfriend, the famous singer Tosca, confronts him about the lady in the picture, whom she suspects to be his lover, but when mobsters Scarpia (Hugo Herman Wilson) and his assistant Spoletta (Philip Lee) turn up at the painter’s apartment, life gets complicated for the couple.
After the interval, the show reopens with La Bohème, in which four characters deal with love troubles, codependency and addiction in present-day London. Rodolfo (Roberto Barbaro) has set up a date with a man who calls himself Mimi (Philip Lee) through the dating app Grindr and the two feel connected from the start. They go to the local pub to join Rodolfo’s housemate, Marcus (Michael Georgiou), who is heartbroken following a breakup. Just then, Marcus’s vivacious ex Melissa (Honey Rouhani) walks in, causing havoc as she flirts and teases. The hilarity of the first scenes soon gives way to a bleaker mood as the story takes a dark turn.
The work of Spreadbury-Maher and musical director David Eaton is truly commendable. They abbreviate the long operas into short pieces but manage to retain their essence while showcasing the wonderful vocals of the cast. The modern libretto and storylines should sit oddly with the opera singing, but somehow it all works. The opera element provides a powerful emotional dimension that would otherwise be lacking. While the contrast with modern scenarios that involve Ubers, pints and iPads is stark, this becomes a strength, as it brings in a great deal of humour.
Opera Undone is not only notable for taking famous operas out of the elitist sphere and turning them into accessible works, but the show is also highly recommended to anyone seeking great entertainment mixed with amazing talent.
Photo: Ali Wright
Opera Undone: Tosca & La bohème is at Trafalgar Studios from 5th February until 7th March 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.