Thursday 14 November 2019

OPERA REVIEW: La Boheme - The Lowry Theatre, Salford

This lively “La Boheme” revival by Opera North has been updated from the late nineteenth century to a vaguely 1950s Paris on the eve of Christmas. Sung in Italian, and including visual and even libretto references to motorbikes, modern art and the coupĂ©, it featured a cast of young singers, and a genuine atmosphere of young adult poverty blended with optimism, humour and the pursuit of tear-stained love. Tonight’s performance was at the Lowry in Salford.

Director Phyllida Lloyd had wanted the production to be extra-relatable to the audience, on the grounds that almost everyone has a period of being young and broke that they can recall. Designer Anthony Ward created a grimy, shabby flat for the four Bohemian young men to share, with bits of shop model dummies and art supplies lying around that didn’t look too different from many student flatshares of today. The cafĂ© scene was set in a red-and-chrome diner dripping with style, and the nightclub scene used a transparent wall effect to have most of the action taking place on a grimy back street in the snow. Mimi was in a ponytail and trousers; Musetta was poured into stylish dresses that enhanced every curve – and during the final act’s party scene, so was Schaunard, who’d added a Marilyn Monroe-style wig to his costume and posturing as well.

Yuriy Yurchuk, complete with dark jacket and “Rebel Without A Cause” coolness, led the group of flatmates as Marcello the struggling painter. His deep sonorous baritone masterfully cascaded around Puccini’s score. Emyr Wyn Jones sang Colline, the over-bearded philosopher, in a warm baritone with a drollness to his tone. Henry Neill sparkled as Schaunard the musician, in a bright baritone. Eleazar Rodriguez’s flowing tenor silkily glided around the music as Rodolfo, the poet. The four had an easy camaraderie with each other, and sang their group banter with deft comedy timing.

Anush Hovhannisyan was absolutely stunning as Musetta, the glamorous and high-maintenance singer, and I was left longing to hear her sing a larger role. As well as being a wickedly detailed comic actress, she had a soaring soprano that effortlessly rode every peak in her music and went into showers of little fireworks at the summit each time. As Mimi, the sickly embroiderer, Lauren Fagan’s soprano was warm and sincere, with a rich and quite a mature tone.

There were some grotesque cameos from Jeremy Peaker as the lecherous landlord Benoit and Stuart Laing the roller-skating toy seller Parpignol, and a put-upon performance from Jeremy Peaker as the wealthy Alcindoro, Musetta’s long-suffering lover. A very special mention must be made of the children’s chorus, made up of members of the Opera North Youth Company, who swarmed all over the stage in the Christmas shopping scene in their charming red and grey coats and berets, and managed to combine sweet singing with an unerring sense of mischief.

Renato Balsadonna conducted with light but sure precision, and made good use of the dramatic pause when necessary.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 12/11/19

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