Or rather, it heads downriver to Shakespeare's Globe, for in Andrew D Edwards's cheerful design, the artists in their garret are messing around to keep warm between the pillars and under the celestial ceiling of that theatre's distinctive stage. It's an unexpected nod to Shakespeare's 400th anniversary, and to the original architecture of the house which forms the opera's backdrop. And it toys with the playwright's expertise on love turned sour, and reminds us that for every Bard of Avon there are thousands of penniless writers like Rodolfo, getting nowhere fast. (Very fast indeed, as it turns out, with conductor Matthew Waldren pushing the whole thing along at a refreshingly bracing and decidedly unsentimental speed.)
This stage within a stage sets up some genuinely amusing tomfoolery – those first-act japes can sometimes be heavy-going – and some tongue-in-cheek schmaltz: Rodolfo and his neighbour/lover Mimi are silhouetted cheesily in a handy, instant full moon as they set out for the first time together. Their destination is the Act Two Cafe Momus, peopled by hearty revellers straight out of Bruegel, where the inestimable chorus and really splendid children's chorus under chorus master Richard Harker are bouncy and bright.
The anachronisms might grate, but for the uniformly excellent singing by returners and new voices at OHP. As Mimi, Anna Patalong is a full-voiced delight, and her flirtatiousness sets up well the new lovers' later falling out. New Zealander tenor Shaun Dixon (Rodolfo) has studied with Pavarotti, and the voice has the requisite Italian veneer for Puccini, even if there was a touch of first-night wildness in the intonation.
As so often, his best friend Marcello comes close to stealing the scene, and here Australian baritone Andrew Finden turns in a performance full of character and musicality, sparkily offset by estranged girlfriend Musetta – delightful Elin Pritchard doing her best Black Adder-like Queenie impersonation in high ruff and higher squeal.
John Savournin as the philosophical (but ultimately practical) Colline has a voice you only want to hear more of. This is his second year at OHP: let's hope he is already slated for a third.
And so to that high-speed City of London Sinfonia. What a fantastic outfit this is: the ambient temperature is both hot and cold and there is brisk wind blowing but these players turn in a performance as polished as if they were nicely tucked up in a traditional opera house. And if the speed of the piece was partly a matter of self-preservation in a difficult summer, all the better: I like my Puccini operas as the composer himself did – something to canter through at a decent lick, before moving on to (in his case) duck-shooting or (in the audience's) the Tube.
|What||La Bohème review, Opera Holland Park|
|Where||Opera Holland Park, Stable Yard, Holland Park, London , W8 6LU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||High Street Kensington (underground)|
11 Jun 16 – 25 Jun 16, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£17 - £75|