La Bohème

Music by Giacomo Puccini; libretto by Giussppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
Ellen Kent and Opera International
The Chisinau National Opera in association with the Ukrainian National Opera of Odessa Sunderland Empire and touring
(2006)

Production photo - the Bohemians

With Ellen Kent and Opera International, you always know what you are going to get: a good, traditional version of a popular opera, with high production values and (often but not always) some spectacular special addition, such as golden eagles, Andalucian stallions or naked chorus girls!

There aren't any special effects in La Bohème (unless you count the constant snowfall in Act III) but otherwise it is very much in the EK mould. The set is excellent - impressive for a touring set but still quick to change (except when the snow has to be swept up!); the costumes are spot-on and the lighting atmospheric.

It's certainly well sung: Irina Vinogradova makes an appealing and at times rather bubbly Mimi who does not overdo the illness and vulnerability too soon, whilst Ruslan Zinevych's Rodolfo has more of an edge than usual, which makes his behaviour in Act III more believable. Elena Gherman gave Musetta plenty of life and Petru Racovita's Marcello had a certain gravitas amid the frivolity of Acts I and II.

The performances are somewhat static and often played more towards the audience than the other characters, but this is the traditional style. I do, however, have reservations about the chorus - but not the performers, I hasten to add! Whilst they do have a place in Café Momus in Act II, it has always seemed to me that (possibly) the guards and (certainly) the milkmaids at the beginning of Act III are simply there because nineteenth century opera required a chorus. The programme notes suggest that La Bohème is not the last great nineteenth century opera but the first great opera of the twentieth (it was finished in 1895 and received its premiere in 1896) and I tend to feel that that particular use of the chorus is the last vestige of the older century.

There is a tremendous clarity in this production. The orchestra of the Ukrainian National Opera of Odessa under Alexandru Samoila brings out the drama and the subtlety of the music without overwhelming us with a kind of lush romanticism which is not needed in this, the most romantic of operas, and the echoes, in Act IV, of the themes of the first act, especially Che gelida manina, Mi chiamano Mimi and O suave fanciulla, come across particularly effectively.

An excellent production of one of the world's most popular operas!

It plays at Sunderland on 29th and 30th March and 1st April, and then moves on to Halifax, Liecester, Aberdeen, Dundee, Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Grimsby, Torquay, Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham, High Wycombe, Wimbledon, Stoke, Glasgow, Llandudno, Lowestoft, Brighton, Woking and Richmnd, where the tour ends on 24th June.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan