My sister and I decided to spend some quality time together at none other than the English National Opera. Getting into the spirit on the night, we treated ourselves to coffee, macarons and pastries at Paul, before debating what the experience would be like.
Opera is completely new to both of us – in fact I dare say I don’t know anyone who’s ever been. What would it be like? Would it be sung in Italian? Will we understand a thing? And what were we going to wear?
After discussing evening wear and ballgowns, I rocked up wearing jeans, leather boots and a fluffy jumper, having hopped on the tube after a busy work day, with my sister wearing black trousers and a gorgeous camel coat. I felt slightly self-conscious. After all, is one allowed to go to the opera in denim?
It turns out, yes, it’s perfectly suitable. And although the average age of the audience was in their mid to late sixties, we spotted a handful of coupled enjoying a date night to classical music. The opera was performed in English, with surtitles readily available above stage for those duet songs where all the words roll into one.
We decided to see Puccini’s La Bohème, the story of a Parisian couple who fall in love – as they all do – but are forced to decide whether their love can stand, up until death.
The ENO version strays slightly from the original. Expecting Mimi, the lead, to be corset-clad and bustled in Parisian garb, she instead was wearing a sixties inspired waitress dress. In fact, the entire opera is set in the 1990s, in something resembling a Shoreditch warehouse flat complete with Lidl trolley and bright pink wig.
Further straying from Puccini’s plan, in the first act, Rodolfo and Mimi, after meeting for the first time, decide the most romantic way to introduce themselves to each other is by shooting up heroin.
It’s a shame, as we were expecting something a little more romantic than a drug-addled couple crumpled in a heap of the floor discussing life and philosophy. To us, it didn’t really fit at all. They had just met, and in the same night share needles. Not that opera is massively realistic, but we weren’t shocked as much as puzzled.
A couple behind didn’t get the meaning either, whispering to each other how the Mimi in the original opera actually had consumption, which led to a sickness and her trademark cough, something that wasn’t really explained in this version but which was still carried through to the end.
Still, the whole experience was fun, and the end scenes saw us try to hold in the tears as Mimi’s fate hangs desperately on the edge. With her friends around her side as she lay coughing in bed, we all hoped for a happy ending!
We had an absolutely great night, and left the Coliseum singing everything in mock soprano. “Pllleeeeeeeease passs me my travelcard!” “I wiiiillllllllllllll!” “Are you huuuuuuungry?” “No, I’m fiiiiiiiiine.”
Although the story was more like Jeremy Kyle meets Corrie than we expected, we had a thoroughly amusing time and have agreed to head back in the new year to see another play, such as Norma which follows the story of love, betrayal and of course, death.