This Sunday, in between all the diversionary tactics of avoiding packing the house for an imminent house move, I took my husband to see Robin Norton-Hale’s modern version of La Boheme: his first ever opera. We sat there and strained to make out the words and laughed at some of the jokes we could distinguish, and watched politely and when the lights came up for the interval I turned to him and said (in a Little-Britain-esque voice) ” Ah don’ like it.”
Nevertheless we ate our cheap, ersatz cornettos (60p each – this is the Carnegie in Workington, not the ENO) during the interval and soaked-in the culture and tragedy of the second half. I did not shed a unitary tear. On the walk back to the car I mentioned this fact to hubby and compared my emotional reaction to La Boheme with a performance we had happened to catch earlier that day, again in Workington, before the Rugby match, (I’ll explain later). This earlier performance was street-theatre (or opera), and comprised four individuals: two of whom I recognised as locals, the others drafted-in, I guess; wearing outsized puppet torsos and microphones. They paraded into the hub of Workington, which has a rather special sound system, and then began a twenty minute performance of love-expressed, love-lost and love-regained, using well-known arias and ditties from various pieces of opera. As the first performer sang to the backing music I started crying and didn’t stop until that piece had finished. I found it interesting that this, shorter, perhaps ‘inferior’ performance (no Olivier awards were won for *that*), had moved me in a way that the nationally renowned, imported variety had failed to do.
I’ve since looked up the history of La Boheme on and when reading the story I *was* moved and realised that it was the transition to a modern setting that had scuppered its ability to resonate with me. Had this opera been set in nineteenth century Paris and referenced the lack of matches (rather than lack of change for the meter) and Mimi being a seamstress (rather than an etsy-esque badge-maker) and Mimi needing funds in a non-NHS society (rather than her dying in 21st century Workington from consumption), I think my heartstrings would have been pulled more effectively. It was cleverly adapted, but the cleverness is only apparent when you know what aspects of the libretto the performance is referencing.
Had I done more research it could be argued that I might have had a more fulfilling experience. Thing is, this is West Cumbria. It was a form of art and culture that is rarely accessible round here. I had to go to try it out, and sadly “Ah didn’t like it.”
NB – Both bits of opera were put on in Workington as part of the Rugby World Cup’s cultural programme. Workington hosted two Scotland games, and it was a great boost for the area. It was my first experience of live Rugby league and I reckon it won’t be my last.