Opera Undone: Tosca & La Bohème does exactly what it says on the tin; it’s a night showcasing classic operas in a new more manageable form. David Eaton & Adam Spreadbury-Maher have adapted Puccini’s famous tragedies to be shorter and in English. As a consequence it makes them comical and almost slapstick. There is something about the implausible plot of some operas that we fully embrace, perhaps because it’s in another language. However when it’s translated, it seems clumsy and silly. The actors sing exactly how they feel which is bizarrely unnatural. In some moments this is deeply funny, for example Tosca sings “my hair…. it took me ages” in a captivatingly operatic tone. But in other times it just feels jarring to hear someone sing so blatantly about their husbands infidelity. Act two is La Boheme which then takes it one step further and modernises the whole opera, taking it into a world of Uber and Grindr. But both are undeniable beautiful and even just listening to the music is a delight. The true power and heartbreak is still very much present in these alternative versions of the original.
Tosca is played by the mesmerising Fiona Finsbury who is a gutsy Tosca with power and clarity. Her partners on stage are Hugo Herman-Wilson and Roger Paterson, who both perform with excellent precision and richness in their voices. However implausible you might think it is, Eaton and Spreadbury-Maher have captured lovely moments from Tosca in just an hour. It feels strange to shorten this masterpiece and to have it comically told, but it is done excellently nonetheless.
La Bohème gets the complex plot of ten characters into a swift four. It is enchantingly sung by Honey Rouhani, Philip Lee, Roberto Barbaro and Michael Georgiou, whose voices effortlessly fill the space with a stunning resonance. For those who are true fans of the opera, it may be irritating to have so many people laughing at poignant moments Puccini purposely created. But the music is exquisite to listen to and I for one enjoy the way these operas have been converted to be accessible wider audiences.
The transformation of La Boheme and Tosca is smooth and for a downscaled version it is deeply imaginative. However if you’re wanting the full orchestra and three hours of music, this isn’t what Opera Undone is about. It’s a piano, four stunning singers and an original way to open opera up to more people.