/ The London Traveler
London — By Andrea Kirkby on December 28, 2009 at 5:06 am
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Opera Up Close

Opera can overwhelm you completely. The drama, the music, the emotions – see a great performance and you can come out in tears. But only too often, you’re far up in the gods, half a mile away from the stage and with only a partial view of the stage, and believe me, it’s really difficult to feel anything much in that situation other than a numb backside.

What you won't see at Opera Up Close's Boheme...

What you won't see at Opera Up Close's Boheme...

OperaUpClose gets rid of that distance. As the name suggests, it’s in-your-face.  La Boheme in a room above a pub – you’re sitting right on top of the singers, intimately involved with their lives, loves, and tragedies.

Theatre in pubs has been thriving for years. Why opera in pubs never has, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s that swanky-posh-upper-class thing some people have about opera – it’s not an opera till the fat lady sings, and unless you’re all dressed up in furs and tiaras, with a lobster supper and a couple of bottles of champagne.

At the Cock Tavern Theatre, Kilburn High Road [map] it’s more likely to be jeans, sweatshirt and a couple of pints of beer.

The production removes the historical distance from the opera by updating it from 19th century Paris to modern North London. Mimi is a Romanian cleaner who’s fallen among a load of nice middle class English boys pretending to be artists – it’s all fresh and new, but it works, letting you focus on the tragedy of the individual relationships instead of the chocolate-box pictures of Montmartre that often deaden the opera’s emotional core.

I don’t think the traditionalists will like it – but if you love the music, but get frustrated with the rather tired productions and stand-and-deliver performances of the big opera houses, this is definitely worth seeking out (though a warning, Kilburn is a bit of a trek from the centre – Kilburn on the Jubilee Line, or Kilburn Park on the Bakerloo).

Of course the one thing you can’t get into a tiny room above a pub – besides the audience of just 40, the cast and the set – is an orchestra, so this opera is performed to the accompaniment of a single piano.

The really fantastic news for opera lovers who take to this concept is that not only has the season for La Boheme been extended for a month – it was due to close in January, but will now stay open till late February – but the director is planning more operas in this space.

Where: Cock Tavern Theatre, Kilburn High Road

When: 5 January  till February 20, 730 on Tuesday to Saturday and 3 pm on Sunday, plus a 2pm matinee on Saturdays

How much: £15 (£10 concessions)

Photo by Andra Puggioni on flickr

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