Event: La Boheme
Venue: York Grand Opera House
La Boheme, Puccini’s poignant masterpiece, stands alone as a passionate tale of love and loss in poverty-stricken Paris. It is a challenging opera, demanding powerful voices and intense on-stage emotion, and provides a charming and enchanting spectacle.
In this production, Irina Vinogradova dazzled as the diminutive Mimi with a soaring voice that won the hearts of the almost-full theatre, while Ruslan Zinevych provided the perfect Rodolfo – entertaining and charismatic, yet tender and warm. Both were ably supported, at least musically, by a gaudy Muzetta and a rather frustrating Marcello, who fluctuated between a slapstick cross-dresser and a caring, emotional comforter. His voice, however, was certainly up to the challenge.
Nicholae Dohotaru’s orchestra began tentatively and only confidently complimented the opera when the tempo and volume rose, although were careful not to dominate York’s small opera house with their melody, at times the intensity of the orchestra needed to increase to reach the emotion on stage. However, when Rodolfo, Mimi and Marcello performed their soothing arias, the accompaniment was delicate and supportive.
Puccini’s romantic and moving score needs no help from light comedy moments or director-driven ad libs to entertain a discerning audience. The plot is intentionally simple. This production suffered from awkward over-characterisation throughout. Audiences should come to be entertained, not to laugh: one felt a little squeamish as Marcello pranced around Cafe Momus with Mimi’s newly-purchased bonnet on his head.
Much was made in the programme of Director Ellen Kent’s amphitheatre staging. It was impressive – notwithstanding that it was constructed for only one performance – though looked odd and out-of-place on the undersized York stage. The acting space was restricted, and the addition of far too many props cramped the action further. Though this is not her fault, Kent will bring Carmen and Aida to York during this tour – Bizet’s larger than life gala risks appearing even more confined.
For all the action and excitement of the overcrowded group scenes, this production was at its most powerful when Rodolfo and Mimi were left to themselves. After the unnecessarily busy opening exchanges, Zinevych and Vinogradova’s O soave fanciulla at the conclusion of Act 1 demonstrated the beauty of Puccini’s score. Moments took your breath away, none more so than Mimi’s last.
Carmen will appear at the York Grand Opera House on 3 April. Aida will appear on 17 May.