La Bohème by Silent Opera at VAULT (24 Feb '12, Waterloo) // Words: Gabriella Shimeld-Fenn
At a silent disco, revellers hear the music via individual wireless headphones. The idea of transferring this concept for use in live theatre performances seems so obvious once you think about it, but it seems that Silent Opera have been the first to catch onto the potential in this method for the more immersive and site-specific productions, like their promenade La Bohème at VAULT Festival.
Having received huge plaudits for their 'Dido & Aeneas' in a similar space during the Old Vic New Voices’ Coming Up Festival in 2011, I went into this show with high expectations and was not disappointed. Starting off with the audience sitting in the loft-style scruffy student studio apartment shared by the four male protagonists, this production felt more like a bunch of mates getting together to chew the fat and bitch about their lives; the singing helped to feel less incongruous by director Daisy Evans’ modernisation of the libretto (e.g. talk of computer hacking and the use of endearments like “babes”).
Everything from the costumes, to the props, to the occupations of the characters – Marcello was a tattoo artist instead of a painter, for example – all aided in bringing the story bang up-to-date, but that’s not to say that it lost any of its impact. The conceit of having Mimi, determined to make her way in the fashion industry, die from anorexia rather than consumption, was particularly affecting.
Alastair Digges, as her tragically jealous lover Rodolfo (and looking somewhat like a young Edgar Wright*) exuded enough scruffy charm to convince us that she’d fall for him, but my personal favourite of the evening was Oliver Dunn’s Marcello; with his skin-tight jeans, leather jacket and rumbling baritone oozing sexuality and leaving us no doubt as to why Musetta can’t keep her eyes off him.
The need to follow the action through various different rooms and environments kept us on our toes, literally and figuratively, though occasionally this caused you to miss some of the visual action while you had to wait for your fellow audience members to go in first. Thankfully, however, all the singers were miked up so that we never lost a word, as it was all broadcast over the same channel in the headphones as the beautiful new recording of Puccini’s score by the University Of London Symphony Orchestra.
My first opera experience was at a similarly innovative and progressive promenade production of Mozart's 'Idomeneo' in a converted warehouse in Birmingham so I am a huge advocate for the need to break down the barriers surrounding the traditional, stuffy image with which opera is laden – Silent Opera do this in spades and I can’t wait to see what they do next!
*There you are, film fans – a film reference for this film blog!
Find more on Silent Opera at Facebook and VAULT at thevaultfestival.com.