Edinburgh Festival Theatre (venue)
04 June 2017 (released)
06 June 2017
Seldom has this reviewer, who has now had the pleasure of seeing a number of Scottish Opera productions, failed to be impressed by the sheer quality on offer. La Boheme is arguably Puccini's most popular opera and there is plenty on offer here for everyone - even very young audience members will love the number of creatively visual touches.
It is and will continue to be an unfortunate fact that many still regard opera as highbrow. For those with a more open mind, however, La Boheme (The Bohemians) could be seen as a great starting point. Wagner can wait. The plot is of course very well known and is still as relevant today as any starving artist can identify with it. The scene is Paris in the roaring Twenties (not the 1890’s) and designer Andre Barbé has done a sterling job with his period street scene while director Renaud Doucet has taken a few inspired liberties with the original, for example a guest walk on spot for what would seem to be fashion designer Karl Lagerfield and some 21st century looking heavily armed police officers… a nod to recent terror attacks in the capital of France? Not sure the idea worked…
Musetta (fiery soprano Jeanine De Bique) appeared as well known ecdysiast Josephine Baker (whose real image is seen in an overblown illuminated stage poster) at one time. Musetta/Baker’s large pet cheetah was another inspired touch though thankfully this one was made of bone china rather then a real one. Also on show were some period soldiers leading a colourful musical parade, complete with playful oversized paper maché heads! Speaking about colourful: the period costumes were flamboyant and wonderfully re-created, it made you want to climb into a time machine and travel back to 1920’s gay Paris!
Four struggling artists share a cold and damp apartment: painter Marcello (baritone David Stout), philosopher Colline (bass-baritone Damien Pass), musician Schaunard (bass-baritone Bozidar Smiljanic) and poet Rodolfo (tenor Luis Gomes). During one lonely and miserably cold night Rudolfo hears a knock on his door, it is Mimi (soprano Hye-Loun Lee) who lives above, a veritable angel…well… whose candlelight has gone out. After some more candle business and it’s love at first sight for our protagonists. If you know your Puccini you will know there will be no happy ending. Unbeknownst to Rodolfo, Mimi suffers from consumption and passes out minutes after their first encounter, hence Rudolfo’s great aria “Your Tiny hand is frozen”. Gomes is not in the tradition of Pavarotti (the king of the high C’s) but many prefer a more subdued tenor and he handles his big aria with aplomb… but unlike his female counterpart does not soar above the orchestra (which occasionally sounded a little harsh to my not particularly trained ear). The bass-baritones handled their arias more than adequately and Hye Youn-Lee deservedly got the lion's share of the audience's applause. Mimi it must be said may well be a silk embroiderer but she is also a flirt (the same can be said for Musetta), much to Rodolfo’s chagrin. Ultimately though Mimi is a bit of a pain and any modern-day woman would equate far more with the free-spirited Musetta!
The first half is dominantly joyous and vivacious (Carpe diem rules!) while the second half turns sombre and deeply melodramatic – with a played-out death scene as is typical of most operas. A triumphant production beginning to end, and watch out for that astonishing ‘vanishing act’ at the end!
(LA BOHEME runs at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre until June 10th)
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