Fiona Finsbury stars in Opera Undone: Tosca & La bohème, Adam Spreadbury-Maher, Artistic Director of the King’s Head Theatre, directs the production, with musical direction from David Eaton. The production will run at Trafalgar Studios 2 from 5 February to 7 March 2020.
Fiona Finsbury’s recent work has involved creating roles in contemporary operas including The Path to Heaven and The Orphans of Koombu (Buxton Opera House). Her other credits include The Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty’s Theatre), La bohème (Hampstead Garden Opera) and L’italiana in Algeri (Mananan Opera Festival).
You’re appearing in Opera Undone: Tosca & La bohème, what can you tell us about these two productions?
These are updated, truncated versions of two beloved Puccini operas, performed in English. You’ll watch two stories unfold over the course of one evening, lasting one hour each. Our La bohème is set in present day London. The lovers Mimi & Rodolfo are in a gay relationship and themes of addiction and chemsex are addressed. Our Tosca is set in 1940s Manhattan. The themes of control, manipulation and power imbalance between the sexes make the piece as relevant today as it ever was. It is particularly pertinent to today’s audiences in the wake of the Me Too movement.
You’ve appeared in a few modern operas recently, how does it feel seeing more traditional opera reimagined?
It feels as thrilling to me as if I were working on a premiere. I think what opera has in common, regardless of when it was written, is the fact that the composers and librettists are trying to make sense of the world and what it is to be human. They are reaching out to the listener with the message that you’re not alone, that we’re all doing our best to connect, to love and be loved. I love contemporary opera and I think the dialogue between composer and audience is as strong in Puccini as it is in Judith Weir, Tansy Davies and George Benjamin. After all, La bohème was a contemporary opera to the first audiences!
How do you think Opera Undone will encourage new audiences to come and experience Opera?
I’m particularly excited by this project because it’s in English, it’s a comfortable length and it’s affordable. Sadly I think some people feel alienated by opera because they worry that it can be hard to understand, requires long periods of concentration and it can be expensive (although more and more companies now are working to address the financial barrier). The notion that you can only enjoy opera if you are fluent in five languages and have endless disposable income is what leads to elitism within opera and the idea that it’s only for a certain group of people. We’ve removed the barriers with this piece and what’s left are powerful stories and deeply moving, beautiful music. I really hope some first time opera goers will come and enjoy the piece and be encouraged to explore this world more.
What’s the biggest challenge in finding the right balance between the traditional and modern in Opera Undone?
I think it’s a challenge to establish our characters in a shorter space of time. As performers we have to be so clear on who we are and what we’re saying in order for the audience to get to know us and connect with our stories.
You have to alternate two roles, how do you prepare yourself for that?
Finding two very distinct characters is about making choices about who they are and being detailed and clear with those choices. The more questions I ask myself about the characters, the more distinct they become from one another. Once I know these two people inside out, I can distil the essence of their personality into a phrase, word or colour, a musical motif or a physicality that acts as a ‘hook’ to bring me into their world.
What’s been your favourite moment in rehearsals so far?
We did a scratch performance of our Bohème in Islington Square in December. It’s an outdoor space and people were coming and going in between Christmas shopping. Some people came across us by chance and then stayed for the performance. At one point a party of children with balloons stopped and were mesmerised. It was a very special moment for me; perhaps for some of those children it was their first ever opera experience, perhaps we planted a seed for them. I felt very lucky to be a part of that.
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Opera Undone?
Whether this is your first time at the opera or you have been immersed in opera your entire life, we want you to feel welcome. Opera is for everyone, especially you!
Main Image: Fiona Finsbury credit Beastly Studios