A Passionate Puccini

Liz Coggins reviews Opera North’s Spring Season

A Passionate Puccini

I am a purist when it comes to opera, and I thought nothing could change my mind, but Opera North’s production of La Boheme could have changed it.

I first saw the company perform this work back in the late 70’s as a very very young opera goer. To be honest I never really warmed to it. I found it really a little too slow and dull for my liking, preferring what I call its sister opera La Traviata – well both leading ladies die tragically from illness in the end don’t they!

But this revival – I didn’t see the first performance of it in 1993 – has certainly put La Boheme back on the map, so to speak, for me. This production is also a showcase for some fine young singers. and I must admit the transition of Bohemian life placed in the 1950’s works well at times – although sometimes it works against the plot and emotion.

La Boheme is a triumph technically with an amazing set design that pushes along the action – I loved the revolving bar and the speed it’s pushed round by the cast. The staging takes away the dullness and slowness for to put if bluntly there’s always something fresh and new happening.

The story however remains as poignant as ever. It tells the story of struggling young artist Rodolfo and the poor seamstress Mimi. He decides not to accompany his three friends – who are so poor they can’t afford firewood and use their own works of art to create a warmth,yet in true opera style amazingly find the money to visit the Café Momus.

It’s then our tragic love story begins when Mimi, a neighbour in poor health comes to Rodolfo’s door. The two, as you would expect fall instantly in love and head for the Café Momus.

Here we meet Musetta, Marcello’s former lover, with her rich admirer Alcindoro. She tries to provoke Marcello into a reconciliation.

Time elapses and the harshness of Mimi’s and Rodolfo’s lives causes them to separate. Their relationship is one of those tragic but not uncommon situations where two people care sincerely for one another but cannot make things work in practical terms. Several months later, Musetta brings Mimi to Rodolfo as she is by now dangerously ill. Musettta, Marcello, Schaunard and Colline all leave to buy medicine for Mimi, leaving the lovers alone to recall the happy times. But the medication is too late for Mimi as she dies in Rodolfo’s arms.

As Rodolfo, Ji-Min-Park is outstanding. He gives the role an exceptional gentle tenderness and passion complimenting Anita Watson’s superb portrayal as Mimi.

It’s left to Marcello and Musetta to inject the fire and life into this work and that they do superbly. Sky Ingram is an energetic and feisty Musetta t paired well with the stud-like love-em-and-leave-em mentality of Marcello. Together they are dynamite waiting to explode bot vocally and artistically.

La Boheme is set to go on tour to Manchester and Nottingham so if you missed it at The Grand then its well worth a trip down the motorway to see this fine production. Visit www.operanorth.co.uk for tour dates and details of future productions.

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