Europe’s first drive in opera goes live at Ally Pally

ENO Drive and Live Soraya Mafi picture by Pablo Strong

ENO Drive and Live Soraya Mafi picture by Pablo Strong - Credit: Archant

Dual English National Opera casts rehearse and perform La boheme in separate bubbles to an audience in parked cars in an innovative production that will be broadcast free on Sky Arts

ENO orchestra Martyn Brabbins picture by Pablo Strong

ENO orchestra Martyn Brabbins picture by Pablo Strong - Credit: Archant

Europe’s first drive in live opera takes place on Saturday as the ENO brings its innovative La boheme to Ally Pally.

Under the banner ‘Drive & Live,’ the opera company’s socially-distanced 90 minute version of Puccini’s classic runs September 19-27 in the grounds of the Muswell Hill landmark.

It was filmed and broadcast as part of Sky Arts mission to bring art and culture to the nation will be broadcast free on Wednesday September 23.

Audiences stay put in their cars as the love story between poverty stricken writer Rodolfo and consumptive seamstress Mimi plays out on a raised and covered stage - with large screens each side so they can see the performers.

ENO Drive and Live David Junghoon Kim

ENO Drive and Live David Junghoon Kim - Credit: Archant

The new translation by Amanda Holden updates the doomed romance to the present day and the award-winning ENO Orchestra, chorus and singers use microphones which broadcast direct to the audience via the wireless sound system.

An alternating double cast have stayed in separate bubbles for rehearsal and performances while maintaining social distance.

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Each bubbled group consists of 34 Orchestra members, 20 Chorus members, 8 principals and a crew.

Distanced bicycle spaces are available for those who have two wheels and 10 ‘Uber Boxes’ - parked vehicles - offer a front row experience for those without wheels.

Ally Pally at night

Ally Pally at night - Credit: Archant

ENO Artistic Director Annilese Miskimmon said: “We think of ourselves as experimenters – trialling innovative ideas on behalf of the whole opera industry. It’s no secret that COVID has had a major impact on the arts, so we’re ripping up the rulebook. These performances are an opportunity to create a thrillingly unmissable pilot project, allowing opera fans to enjoy world-class opera without fear. It’s a huge creative challenge, but the success of this will allow us to see how best to roll the performances out nationally.”

Wielding the baton are ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins and the ENO Head of Music Martin Fitzpatrick. Brabbins comments: “ENO’s irrepressible energy to bring great opera to life, even in the most trying of times, has given rise to the unique and splendid Drive & Live. The prospect of conducting La bohème at Alexandra Palace, brings a new and exciting significance to the potential of the car-park! The ENO orchestra and chorus, and a cast assembled from the very finest of talent are more than ready to rekindle our passion for this supreme of art forms in a way nobody imagined before.”

Director PJ Harris added that he was excited to bring live opera back to live audiences.

“In La bohème we see what happens when young love, passion, hopes, dreams and creative ambition are confronted with the reality of loss and grief. The opera’s powerful mixture of intense emotion, with Puccini’s incredible music and unforgettable storytelling, makes this as poignant now as when it was first written.”

ENO Drive and Live David Junghoon Kim

ENO Drive and Live David Junghoon Kim - Credit: Archant

Philip Edgar-Jones, Director of Sky Arts added: “As culture emerges slowly back into the light we are thrilled to be partnering with the ENO on this ground-breaking project. It’s fitting that this world first is taking place at Alexandra Palace, the spiritual home of TV, and La bohème is the perfect story to reflect the time we are in right now.”

Sharing the role of Mimì are Natalya Romaniw and Sinéad Campbell Wallace, while Rodolfo is sung by David Butt Phllip and David Junghoon Kim.