The scene is a big, high, bricked, L-shaped space. The printed programme doesn't give the venue a name it but it is in the middle of Shoreditch and it could once have been part of the Underground. Word of mouth brought a packed audience for Vignette Productions La Boheme. Each of the first three acts will take place in a different position (turn your seat around).
The garette is exceedingly scruffy: filing cabinets, naked light bulbs, a bike, a tin bath, radio sets.. a sofa, lots of wiring. The text is written on the walls and contains words like wanker that Giacosa and Illica didn't, the orchestra of just over a dozen plays Jonathan Dove's clever and adequate boiled-down version lovingly and meaningfully conducted by Stephen Moore. Rould and tumble rules, the opera comes across forcefully, directed by Andrew Staples (whose day job is as a tenor - highly praised in these columns for a recital last year in Provence and for the lead in a Barbican performance of Candide earlier this year). Acting convincing, singing, fresh, bright, clear, youthful; particularly good were the Petersburg Mimi, Ilona Domnich, and the Glasgow Rodolfo, Alastair Digges.
This was in your face opera. I sat within inches of the harp and within spitting distance of the horns; an interesting take on Puccini's harmonies and his telling use of the angelic instrument. This was Puccini almost in the raw and it got across in a fresh and vivid way. 1896 music drama, still giving pleasure and provoking, tears in a 2011 setting.