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BWW Review: LA BOHEME, The Luna Drive-in Cinema

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BWW Review: LA BOHEME, The Luna Drive-in Cinema

BWW Review: LA BOHEME, The Luna Drive-in CinemaOn a rainy evening in north-west London, a rather unique experience took place. Drive-in cinema remains a novelty in the UK; a drive-in cinema screening opera is surely a first. However, in response to the current situation, the Luna Drive-in Cinema has adapted its hugely popular cinema nights to both socially distanced seated screenings and drive-ins. In partnership with the Royal Opera House, it is now screening a variety of opera and ballets throughout the summer at venues across the country.

At Allianz Park, Puccini's La bohème was first to be shown. Conducted by the brilliant Antonio Pappano, Puccini's passionate opera follows four struggling bohemians, living in artistic, but very real, poverty in 19th-century Paris. Richard Jones's version of the story follows their relationships, friendships and losses, with huge amounts of comedy placed among the heartbreak.

Michael Fabbiano sings as an ebullient Rudolfo. This version avoids much examination of his jealousy or refusal to address Mimì's illness, but Fabbiano is ardently in love on stage and demonstrates good control over his huge voice.

Australian soprano Nicole Car takes on the role of Mimì with great emotional honesty. She is sweetly innocent, but also very convincing in her feelings for Rudolfo. Their epic duet 'Oh soave fanciulla' is soaring and full of fragile emotion and her deathbed scene is deeply touching.

Over the years, Simona Mihai seems to have sung nearly every role in this opera and as the coquettish Musetta, Mihai brings huge fun, melodrama and exuberance to the role; the exaggerated mischief and the tantrums are very convincing and funny. Even while dancing on the tables at Café Momus and removing her knickers in the process, she has a great control over the timbre of her voice, bringing both joy and provocation in 'Quando m'en vo', but also showing restrained and quiet grief at Mimì's deathbed.

The sparks do seem to fly between Mihai and Polish baritone Mariusz Kwikcień's Marcello, who has a lovely tone to his voice. He carefully matches Musetta's silliness without tipping into parody.

There is a definite friendship between the four men, which occasionally is a little too obvious in its horseplay; Florian Sempey is a rather rakish Schaunard and Luca Tittoto is a strong Colline.

Pappano seems to relish every detail of Puccini's luscious score, bringing great energy and delicate, intricate handling of the heartbreak within the story.

Stewart Laing's design is very evocative. As the snow falls at the start of the production, everyone shivers. The bohemians' starkly empty attic is bleak, but feels a bit too bright. It evokes strip-lighting rather than candlelight. The warm contrast of the bustling, chocolate-box arcades of Paris and the chaotic scenes at Café Momus are a feast of colour and movement, as the set cleverly seems to move around the cast.

La bohème was not designed to be watched from inside a car, but choosing this production is a canny move, as it remains one of the best-loved operas in the world. This version also contains a huge amount of detail, so is perfect for a screening. The width of the stage is presented in dramatic fashion, particularly when the garret is shown in such stark emptiness, but also the Paris arcades feel bustling and there are some lovely details picked up in Café Momus, such as wide-eyed waiters watching Musetta's exploits.

The one issue with the set-up at Allianz Park is that the screen is not as large as you would expect or want. Therefore, the experience does not feel quite immersive enough, and anyone who relies on the subtitles for operas in foreign languages would struggle to read them if not parked in the first three or four rows. However, the large, interactive speaker box you are given to rest on the dashboard gives immaculate audio, with perfect syncing to the visuals.

For a novel experience and for those who want to ensure social distancing, this is a fun night out. Make sure you get there early though, or you might need some binoculars.

Screenings of performances from the Royal Opera House are showing throughout the summer at The Luna Drive-in Cinema

Photo Credit-Tristram Kenton

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From This Author Aliya Al-Hassan