An opera lost for words

La bohème

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton



***

PUCCINI'S La bohème demands proper staging, and Ellen Kent's production delivers that.

It is a traditional show, with well choreographed crowd scenes and authentic, realistic sets that transform from the artist's garret to the Café Momus, and from the Barriere d'Enfer back to the garret - the platform for music and drama is sumptuously set. Local talent is represented by children from stage schools, a local dog and a brass band. Spectacle abounds, snow falls  and everything is a little larger than life.

The story is inspired by Henri Murger's novel Scenes de la Vie de Bohème although most of the libretto is original. It tells of the love affair between seamstress Mimi (Elena Dee) and penniless poet Rodolfo (Sorin Lupa) beautifully introduced by their first encounter with Si, mi chiamano Mimi in which soprano Dee excels, displaying her slight edge and fast vibrato. Rodolfo's preceding Che Gelida Manina is nuanced and poignant.

Baritone Petru Racovita, meanwhile, is the handsome, appealing Marcello, opposite Ecaterina Danu's beautifully characterised Musetta, glamorous, commanding, and with a gleaming, lyric soprano that lifts the soul.

There's a nicely uptight Schaunard from Iurie Gisca, and an endearing Colline from Valeriu Cojocaru. Romance, tragedy and death, the staples of a good opera, are all present and correct, played with respect and commitment by a fine ensemble.


La Bohème is awash with well known glorious arias and duets, particularly Mimì and Rodolfo’s arias and duet in Act I, culminating in O Soave Fanciulla. T'hey set a fearsome pace and standard for the rest of the evening.

In Act Two, Musetta's waltz, Quando M'en vo, glitters as she strains for Marcello's attention stealing time with him by means of a ruse regarding a tight shoe. The dramatic closing quartet of the Third Act, Addio dolce svegliare alla mattina! ,is brilliantly played out as Rodolfo and Mimi are reconciled, and Marcello and Musetta quarrel in antithetical counterpoint. The closing Fourth Act is stolen by Colline's Vecchia Zimarra as he pawns his overcoat to pay for medicine for the ailing Mimi.


Nicolae Dohotaru's conducting oozes warm orchestral sonorities, and is at its best with the arias which have the slow, grave beauty and cadence of symphonic adagios. La Boheme is remarkable for being a classic opera, first performed 117 years ago in 1896, but for which a recording exists conducted by the original conductor. In 1946, fifty years after the opera's premiere, Toscanini reprised his conducting performance on radio, offering contemporary conductors, and musicians, an unique insight into how Puccini envisioned the original score.


A temporary hitch with the surtitles at the beginning was soon rectified with Ellen herself coming front of house between Acts to apologise, a perfect demonstration of how hands on she is with her productions. The company complete their Wolverhsmpton visit with Aida with the tour, which also includes Nabucco continuing until April 2014.  http://www.ellenkent.com/how-to-book.html



Gary Longden

 

A severe case of the hiccoughs

*** 

THERE was a real life crisis within this production of Puccini's tragic opera when a technical problem during the first two acts 'killed' the screen which should have shown, in English, the words being sung in Italian.

Without the surtitles, anyone in the audience who didn't know the story must have felt bemused as the Chisinau National Opera and the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Moldova launched into the tale of love and heartbreak in Bohemian Paris.

At one point celebrated producer Ellen Kent, who happened to be at the performance, went on stage to apologise and explain that there was a computer-based problem, and seconds before the interval the words 'I love you' popped up on the screen, to the amusement of the disappointed audience.

After the break the screen worked perfectly, but the beautiful words of the arias in the early scenes had been lost.

Elena Dee was a delight as Mimi, the seamstress who falls for Rodolfo, a poor writer and poet, played by Sorin Lupu, and there were fine performances from Petru Racovita (the painter, Marcello) and Ecaterina Danu, the flirty singer Musetta.

Most of the action takes place in the sparse garret studio shared by Rodolfo and Marcello, clevelry staged with views across the Parisian skyline, with smoke regulalry drifting from chimneys.

The company completed their visit to the Grand with a performance of Verdi's Aida

Paul Marston 

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