Reviewed by Ann Durrell
Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème is one of the most popular and most frequently performed across the globe. Opera North themselves have delivered several productions over the years and is now directed by Phylida Lloyd with revival choreography by Lauren Poulton. The story behind La Bohème is based on Henri Murger’s novel and was premiered in 1896. Opera North’s revival is set in 1960’s Paris where the main characters are living a bohemian lifestyle struggling for cash.
It’s Christmas Eve, artist Marcello (Yuriy Yurchuk) and poet Rodolfo (Eleazar Rodriguez) are in their digs and it’s a pretty sorry state of affairs. With nothing to eat and no firewood they are forced to burn Rodolfo’s manuscript for his play to keep warm. Their friend Colline (Emyr Wynn Jones) returns followed by Schaunard (Henry Neil), the later of who brings provisions. All seems well until their landlord arrives collecting rent, the four friends wind him up and encourage him to divulge his womanising ways so they can feign disgust and throw him out. It is all played out in a light-hearted way and starts the performance off in a fun way. Jeremy Peaker is great in the role of the landlord Benoit and again in his second role later as Alcindoro.
The four male leads have great chemistry together as well as complementary voices, they really seem to bounce off each other and you cannot help but feel endeared by them. The opera is sung in Italian but there are English subtitles to either side of the stage so non-Italian speakers such as myself can keep up with what’s happening and all the jokes!
Rodolfo is left alone in his rooms as his companions depart to celebrate and eat in the Latin Quarter, his neighbour Mimi (Lauren Fagan) knocks on the door, her candle has blown out. On entering she faints claiming to be exhausted, she drops her key which Rodolfo hides. The two then seem to instantly fall in love and the act is closed with a beautiful Duet of O Soave Fanciulla by Rodolfo and Mimi. The setting behind whilst they sing was romantic and captivating, it was a pity you could hear a couple of clunks as the set was changed behind.
The next act continues again festive and fun, we are transported to Paris Latin quarter on Xmas Eve. Everyone is out Christmas shopping, children are playing, the Opera North Chorus sings to its usual high standards. Parpignol, the toy seller, has a magic transforming top hat, sparklers and scoots across the stage on roller skates followed by scores of children. Fantastic choreography and well-polished.
In Café Momus Marcello is faced with his former lover Musetta (Anush Hovhannisyan), accompanied by her sugar daddy who is laden with gift. Musetta captivates everyone in her presence, apart from it seems her ex Marcello who is trying his best to ignore her. Hovhannisyan is excellent in the role of Musetta, her aria quando m’en vo was the standout performance of the evening.
Acts three and four, the tone turns darker with Rodolfo’s jealousy coming between him and Mimi whose health is failing. There is still a glimmer of comedy when Colline (Emyr Wynn Jones) and Schaunard (Henry Neil) return to their rooms with Schaunard in a fetching red taffeta dress giving his best Marilyn Monroe!
Of all the Opera North productions I have seen this year, La Boheme has been my favourite.
Tickets cost from £20 to £60 (booking fees may apply).
Opera North’s La Boheme is at The Lowry in Manchester from 12-15 November 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.thelowry.com or call the box office on 0843 208 6000.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000