Published: 9 February, 2012
by SEBASTIAN TAYLOR
OperaUpClose has done it again, coming up with another Puccini hit at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington.
After its award-winning La Boheme and delightful Madam Butterfly, the enterprising opera company is staging the Italian composer’s La Fanciulla del West in a new cut-down version by Robert Chevara and Kfir Yefet.
The opera is relocated and updated from America’s Wild West around 100 years ago to the seamy side of London’s Soho today.
Puccini’s orchestra is reduced to a viola and piano; his 18-strong cast is cut to six east European immigrants; and there’s an extremely witty new translation with all sorts of topical references.
Polish drug dealer Vik Johnson (Ben Thapa), a one-time flame of Minnie’s, turns up in her tacky Soho café, much to the chagrin of her regulars who set out to get him. But not before he tries to have his manly ways with Minnie in her high-rise Stratford flat.
The opera ends in an Elephant and Castle underground car park where Minnie arrives on a scooter to save Vik’s life by winning the hearts of her regulars out to kill him.
It makes for splendid theatre.
But is it Puccini?
The great Minnie/Vik kissing scene in act two, surely among the greatest kisses in all opera, is a real let-down without the emotional orchestral underpinnings.
On the other hand, the ensemble singing in the last act actually benefits from minimal accompaniment, Laura Parfitt giving a quite sensational performance as Minnie singing her socks off to save her Vik.
• La Fanciulla del West is at the Kings Head, Upper Street, Islington, 020 7226 4443, 7.15pm, from £16, (24 performances till March 3)