Puccini in a pub wins Olivier Award

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Small-scale La bohème beats international opera companies

A production of Puccini's La bohème that took place in a London pub has scooped an Olivier Award.

OperaUpClose's production triumphed over three international opera houses, including a Royal Opera house co-production, with the Vienna State Opera and San Francisco Opera, of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur.

The tiny opera company made its first appearance in front of an audience of 35 at the Cock Tavern Theatre in Kilburn, North London. A single piano took the place of an orchestra. The opera ran for 126 performances, before transfering to Soho Theatre, where it ran for a further three months to great critical acclaim.

Following its success with La bohème, OperaUpClose took up residence at The King's Head Theatre with the aim of putting it on the map as 'London's Little Opera House'.

The company's success has been put down to its fresh approach to opera. For their first Puccini production, director Robin Norton-Hale translated the opera into English, and moved its setting from 19th-century Paris to modern day Soho.

'It's a genius piece by Puccini,' she told BBC News. 'But when you see it in Italian and you've got a soprano in her 40s playing a 20 year-old, it doesn't have the same impact. … We've just made it easier for people to understand what the drama was trying to say, and the music does its own work.'

Other Olivier Award winners this year included German baritone Christian Gerharer, who won the outstanding achievement award in opera for his performance as Wolfram von Eschinbach in Wagner's Tannhäuser.

Diana Garrisi