Produced by The King’s Head Theatre, for once venturing out into the West End from their home in Islington, the opera are both highly one-hour versions of the sumptuous originals, sung in English and cleverly abridged by David Eaton and Adam Spreadbury-Maher to capture the essentials of both the music and the story. Tosca is set in 1940s New York and turned into a tale of a bullying Mafia boss, which does not quite work – Scarpia will always be better as a dastardly police chief, even when sung as well as Hugo Herman-Wilson does in this production – but it was the outrageously brilliant changes made to La Bohème that really lifted the evening.
The opera we all know and love is a tale of doomed love between Rodolfo and Mimi; this version is a tale of doomed gay love between Rod and a man whose friends still call him Mimi though his name is not Lucia as in the original, but Lucas. He arrives late, blaming his Uber driver, having met Rod through Grindr and the story just takes off hilariously from there. The remarkable thing is that Puccini’s music seems just as appropriate to a gay sitcom as the original tragedy, and Mimi’s change from an innocent girl fatally suffering from tuberculosis to a male drug addict is also totally convincing.Despite the humour, the story is still portrayed very touchingly, with is a great triumph by a very talented cast.
With both operas performed by only four singers, the whole evening is a great feat of abridgement, with the craziness of la Bohème the real highlight. All the cast played their parts with great commitment and style, with Honey Rouhani making the most of the smallest part of Musetta (here called Melissa) in deliciously garrulous manner. Avoid front row seats if you do not wish to be seduced by her.
I found this a gloriously enjoyable evening (despite not sitting in the front row) and would personally rate it as five stars, though I know that opera purists may well hold a different opinion, ranging from mild disapproval to total outrage. But as I said, I loved it.