“The course of true love never did run smooth.” That William Shakespeare knew a thing or two about love. Many of his plays have been adapted as operas and companies are wheeling out such jewels as Falstaff, Béatrice et Bénédict and A Midsummer Night's Dream in this 400th year since the Bard's death. Opera Holland Park pays its own quirky tribute in a completely different style, not by staging a Shakespeare-inspired opera, but by relocating one of opera's great romantic pairings – Mimì and Rodolfo – from 1840s Paris to 16th-century England for a La bohème with a twist.

Shaun Dixon (Rodolfo) and Anna Patalong (Mimì) © Robert Workman
Shaun Dixon (Rodolfo) and Anna Patalong (Mimì)
© Robert Workman

Shaun Dixon's Rodolfo, a struggling poet – the Bard himself? – scratches away with a quill, while Marcello daubs at a giant canvas depicting the drowning of the pharaoh in the Red Sea which forms the set's backdrop. Schaunard, a dapper lutenist, and Colline, an elegant philosopher, both sport rapiers which are put to energetic use in their mock duel. The first two acts are full of high jinx – an irreverent, bawdy approach, sort of Carry on Puccini, which makes light of our bohemians' daily struggle. Benoît, their landlord, is a Falstaffian figure of fun and Alcindoro a foppish Malvolio. Elin Pritchard's Musetta completely steals Act II as an outrageous Queen Elizabeth – basically Miranda Richardon's Queenie from Blackadder – belting out “Quando me'n vo'” atop a trestle table in an earthy Tavern Momus. It's best to forget the anachronisms (as did the surtitles). It's a Tudorbethan romp.

Anna Patalong (Mimì) and Shaun Dixon (Rodolfo) © Robert Workman
Anna Patalong (Mimì) and Shaun Dixon (Rodolfo)
© Robert Workman

There's a welcome lack of pretence about what Mimì and Rodolfo are up to in Act I, both brazenly blowing out their candles and skittering off into the moonlight, where the final image (which I shan't spoil here) is so breathtakingly beautiful, yet so simple, that I'm surprised I haven't seen it done before. Elsewhere, though, there is an artifice to Stephen Barlow's staging which reminds us we're at the theatre: pillars wobble; cardboard fire pokes from the stage-within-a-stage; while torn paper snowflakes flutter from the playhouse ceiling over the Barrière d'Enfer. We're “in” on the staging and the only times I was moved was when Anna Patalong's Mimì stepped across the footlights during her two arias and poured out her heart directly to us.

Patalong sang a gorgeous Mimì, her creamy soprano flecked with luscious, dark tone. Long phrases caressed “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì”, claiming the sun's first kiss of April gloriously. “D'onde lieta uscì” was exquisitely tender as she leaves Rodolfo to return to her little nest. She returns dressed in finery (Marcello reports she was spied “dressed like a queen” in a carriage) and dies, presumably from plague, uncomfortably propped up on the lads' table.

Anna Patalong (Mimì) © Robert Workman
Anna Patalong (Mimì)
© Robert Workman

Dixon's promising Rodolfo was ardently sung, with an attractive, bright tone, but he often forced his tenor too hard and pushed ahead of the beat. Pritchard had a ball as a brilliant-toned Musetta, laser-sharp top notes soaring, her vocal scrap as she breaks up with Marcello deliciously waspish. John Savournin's eloquent Colline was the pick of the men, real warmth to his soft bass. Andrew Finden's Marcello and Frederick Long's Schaunard were smaller-voiced, taking time to make their mark. The Chorus, well directed in its Momus escapades, sang energetically, whilst Matthew Waldren led a boisterous account of Puccini's score, springy rhythms to the fore, the City of London Sinfonia responding warmly.

Although I was rarely moved, this was as spirited a Bohème as I've seen for some time and well worth catching.