Welsh National Opera – La bohème
Wales Millennium Centre
Saturday 28th January 2017
WNO open the new year season with the theme of Love’s Poison Chalice. This will prove to be a soppy time and not just because Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Even if young couples aren’t flocking to see La bohème, we should, as it holds up as a moving, compact and delightful experience. Puccini is always a sure fire way to make you fall in love with opera.
This opera unashamedly glorifies the bohemian culture of its time: basically living in poverty, but rising above this to make great art and not worry about life. Moulin Rouge put it best as: “Beauty, truth, freedom and love!” Music lovers will relish the famous arias in the first act and marvel at Musetta’s sumptuous Waltz in the second. The devastation at the finale is remarkably detailed by the composer as “ppppppp”, or billed as “a forest of pianissimos” by Puccini’s publisher.
The story sees Rodolfo, living in a squalid flat in Paris with other creatives and falls in love with the girl on the next floor, Mimi. They share some tender moments together, each preventing the other from pulling focus on breaking the ice. They make a merry trip to a fancy Cafe, they meet Musetta, a past love of Marcello (Rodolfo’s friend) and she quibbles with her new partner the old, money bags Alcindoro. Leaving him with everyone’s bill, she dumps Alcindor and goes back with Marcello. A few months have passed and Mimi and Rodolfo need some breathing space, though she is ill, with consumption. The final act is a tragedy like no other, a musical gut punch that leaves you reeling.
Annabella Arden’s staging might have been fairly jarring the first time round (back in 2012), but now it seems to have mellowed and doesn’t take any extreme ego-maniacal directorial decisions that contemporay opera can fall into. Revival director Caroline Chaney has recreated the Parisian wit and charm here, though this is very much a Paris of yesteryear.
As I stated in in my first review when this production premiered, making the setting on the cusp of WWI adds little in originality. All the costumes and sets look no different to a “traditional” production. The only exceptions are the giant, silvery, revolving mirrors and the negative video work which tower over everyone in bohemia.
The cast are a vibrant ensemble of Puccinians. I’d like to sum them up in clusters of three, if I may:
Marina Costa-Jackson as Mimi: moving, serene & heartfelt.
Dominick Chenes as Roldolfo: merry, affectionate & turbulent.
Gary Griffiths as Marcello: gruff, dashing & passionate.
Jihoon Kim as Colline: witty, chipper & solemn.
Gareth Brynmor as John Schaunard: funny, proud & callous.
Lauren Fagan as Musetta: assured, flamboyant & redemptive.
Lovers of opera rejoice and lament the events in this opera (the lady sat behind me was in bits) and those who have never been would find a super starting ground.
Rating: 4 stars
La bohème continues at the WMC, with a brand new production of Frank Martin’s Le Vin herbé and the revival of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, then on tour.
An extended performance of Satie’s Vexations takes place around Cardiff in 2017, as a fundraiser for OCD UK, with such venues as the Wales Millennium Centre as locations (more to be confirmed). We also need more musicians, venues, electronics artists, rap artists and artists in all fields to help to complete the piece. Follow #CardiffVexations & @weepingtudor on social media to see more!
Photo Credit: Robert Workman
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