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Thursday, 28 May 2015

La Bohème | Review

Opera. Among my generation not easily accessible, sung mostly in Italian or German and often judged on being 'of it's time', traditional or difficult to follow.


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However I urge you all to give Opera a go especially John Copley's La Bohème by Puccini currently on at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London until 16th July 2015. This particular production has been around for 40 years but soon will not be performed in this way again. (It is available on DVD here).

It's Traditional therefore you have permission to be swept up in romance and heartbreak that Puccini creates so powerfully in his orchestration. I advise you to leave 'corny' at the door please and don't ask questions of 'but how are these poor sick people singing so gustily?'

The production alone (aside from the music) is carried seamlessly through each Act with the perfection of Julia Trevelyan Omans' intricate scenic design. The old, bleak attic where the band of bohemian's and love struck couple meet has great detail without being too busy, cluttered enough to feel lived in. The attic space divided with a set of stairs did not limit performance space and subtly distinguished each of the men's work spaces, giving them a slight identity: the painter's 'naturally lit' area with easel and chaise lounge, the piano, the writer at his desk...The set enabled each poignant moment to be emphasised to the audience: when Rodolfo and Mimi's hands touch on the banister for 'What a frozen little hand, let me warm it for you' and the difficulty Mimi has entering the attic up the suggested flight of stairs to the attic in the final woeful scene.

This attic set was versatile that a quick scene change to a bustling street and cafe was created  between Acts. The busy street scene depicting village-folk excitedly bustling around in wait on Christmas Eve effectively contrasted with the warmth and relaxed atmosphere from the multi-level cafe. The stage was transformed so much so that even from the higher regions of the theatre where I was sitting I was enveloped in the action. Each character on stage portrayed their own silent story as they bustled around waitoring in the cafe or watching a parade of soldiers in the street. At times the 'busyness' of the stage and reading the English surtitles meant it was easy to miss these comical characterizations that added considerable detail to the scene (the waiter dealing with Musetta's dog, the squabbling children...) and above all the principals.

Act III opened in contrast with a colourless, wintery February with falling snow taking away the vibrancy of Act II and effectively moving time on where our couple have parted ways. The stage is bare giving a distance to the main character's relationship as Mimi confides in Marcello. The empty staging allows Mimi to comfortably listen in to Rodolfo expressing his concern to his friend. Then as both Rodolfo and Mimi meet there is a sudden intimacy between them before the final Act where we are back in the attic for the cheerful larks of the bohemians to Mimi's final moments.

Jennifer Rowley played a flamboyant and rumbustious Musetta flaunting her 'sugar daddy' making Marcello (Lucas Meachem) jealous. Both fiery in temperament there was real emotional charge in their on-off relationship. Her costumes striking and bright contrasted well with little frail Mimi played by Anna Netrebko who although perhaps did not stand out in costume stood out in voice. Her rich soprano and deep melodic vocal lines made an impact even in her final moment. A few more obvious indications of her illness may have established the character more. The relationship between her and Rodolfo (Joseph Calleja) remained touching throughout, making their separation even more heart-wrenching. Despite everything, Rodolfo's adoration of her was unfaltering and so heartbreaking at the end of the Opera. The band of bohemians: Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline (Marco Vinco) and Schaunard (Simone del Savio) bonded well together like a fun group of friends sticking together in difficult times. Marcello was a slightly stronger character at times over-shadowing Rodolfo. Rodolfo at first was easy-going, with a live and let live attitude- the way he is willing to use his precious play as fuel for the fire and by Act III the complications in this affair with Mimi come to the fore as we see much more emotional turmoil and perplexity in his relationship with Mimi.

Overall it was a stunning production of great craftsmanship and vocal brilliance interwoven in Puccini's much loved operatic classic.


Don't be put off by the prices at The Royal Opera House depending on performances you can get a good view for as little as £9! You will be up high of course but for large productions its good to be able to see the whole stage and above all just be in the prestigious, greatness and grandeur of The Royal Opera House, London.