OperaUpClose bring their 2011 Olivier Award-winning English version of Puccini’s La Bohème to Worthing’s Connaught Theatre on Saturday, March 23.
It comes as the company marks its tenth anniversary – a happy landmark for a company that happened almost accidentally.
Robin Norton-Hale, director and librettist, says: “We have done well – in this current climate!
“To have started an arts company at the beginning of a recession was quite something, but to be honest, we were not planning on starting up a company as such. We just formed to put on this production of La Bohème… and it just had such an amazing response that it was clear that there was an audience there for our different kind of approach to opera. It has just built up from there.
“Opera is an amazing art form, but I do think it is often misunderstood or misrepresented.
“Often it is not helped by the venues that take it, especially if it is being done in a traditional way. You need space for a 70-piece orchestra and the venue will be of a certain age and a certain price, and that all comes with certain expectations.
“But we did La Bohème above a pub with just a piano accompaniment and that immediately got rid of a lot of the baggage. People were not having to worry about what they were going to wear or even if they were going to be able to afford a drink.”
And it enabled the company to get much more directly to the heart of what La Bohème is all about.
“La Bohème is about a group of young people who are trying to work out who they are and what they want from life and what really matters.
“What people remember is that at the end Mimi dies and that it is a tragedy, but for most of the opera, it is entertaining and dramatic, but really it is just about ordinary people doing ordinary things, falling in and out of love and having arguments and trying to get money together to pay the rent and trying to pursue an artistic career path.
“It is actually all about ordinary people that we can all relate to.
“In Act two there is a massive chorus, and you could end up having more than a hundred people on stage, but actually La Bohème is a really intimate story about ordinary people doing ordinary things that we can all understand…”
But don’t blame opera itself, Robin insists: “I do think that opera is often the punching bag. Particularly in the 19th century the writers were writing for massive forces, really big orchestras in really big venues. The composers were writing for the materials that they had available, so now in order to put on the show it becomes very expensive.
“And if some people feel that it has to be expensive in order to get the right experience, then that is up to them.
“We can only concentrate on providing an artistic experience that is of a really, really high quality and then add the other element which is to make that experience as available to as many people as possible.
“I shy away from the word accessible. I don’t like the suggestion that it is like somehow dumbing down, that the audience needs something explaining to them. If you are saying you are making something accessible, you are saying opera needs explaining and that the audience needs educating. That’s not the case. I think our productions are really true, even if the production comes with just a piano.”
Tickets on 01903 206206 and online at http://worthingtheatres.co.uk.