Opera in the back room of a pub. What do we think of this?
The King's Head Theatre in London has recently declared itself to be London's third opera house. Unlike ROH and the Coliseum, there is no proscenium arch or orchestra pit - there's also no orchestra, just a piano.
I've seen two productions by OperaUpClose, La Boheme (at the sister theatre The Cock Tavern before The King's Head became opera-only) and The Barber of Seville. I really enjoyed the Puccini. The translation was witty, the production coherent and clever and while the singers didn't have your typical Puccini voices, you wouldn't want them to in that size of venue. I didn't enjoy the Rossini as much, mostly because the production wasn't as well thought through and the voices weren't quite agile enough. It got good reviews, but that was with a different cast to the one I saw.
As long as it's well sung and well directed, I really like the idea of a permanent venue for small-scale opera. The tickets are quite cheap so it's good for first-timers. There's great scope for doing interesting things with staging (the second act of Boheme, for example, was performed in the pub rather than the theatre, surrounded by bemused regulars. It's nice to see opera in more intimate venues and not to be charged £7 for a programme, and it's a good opportunity for young singers to get experience and, presumably, to get paid.
Of course, there's nowhere to hide. These are shoestring productions, so if the singing and acting are not all that they could be there's no chance of taking refuge in the set or costumes. English translations show up any dramatic weaknesses, and piano reductions rely on the fantasticness of the pianist. It's risky, but that's what I like about it.
Would you go to see opera in a pub theatre?