North East & YorkshireOperaReview

Opera North’s La Bohème – Leeds Grand Theatre, Leeds

Music: Giacomo Puccini

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Conductor: Renato Balsadonna

Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood

This Opera North’s production of Puccini’s La Bohème returns since its last showing in 2014.  This tragic opera, set to Guiseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica’s text, is based on Henry Murger’s Scènes de la vie de bohème and also his play, La Vie de bohème – collaborated with Théodore Barriere. 

La Bohème offers a glimpse into the Parisien Bohemian life introducing Rodolfo (Eleazar Rodriguez), Marcello (Yuriy Yurchuk), Colline (Emyr Wyn Jones) and Schaunard (Henry Neill). The artists are experiencing financial hardship – so much so that they can’t afford the firewood to heat up their home. Rodolfo (Rodriguez) is left alone while the others go to Café Momus and soon after he meets Mimì (Lauren Fagan) who is ill, comes to visit and asks for a light for her candle. They instantly fall in love and they make their way to the Café where one gets to know about some of the characters especially Marcello (Yurchuk) and Musetta (Annush Hovhannisyan) and the latter fights for an ‘old flame’ to be rekindled.

La Bohème depicts the harsh reality of life the artists live and how this impacts on their personal lives including love. It is evident in the latter Acts that the separation of Rodolfo and Mimì is inevitable due to the poverty that they are both experiencing and how life has a grave impact of Mimì’s health. However, there are brief interludes where both lovers celebrate their love and relationship and seek opportunities to spend some time alone. This resonates with living for today and living in the present; this mindfulness tactic in seizing the moment supports their plight of realistic living and surviving. The ruling theme is realism with glimpses into the simplistic but tough lives of this Bohemian community and it certainly is the case with La Bohème. One today is able to associate with the themes being raised including poverty, friendships, love and feeling young and free. 

Puccini’s ingenious music marks the core theme throughout with much of the composition being flexible and unstructured with the opera’s narrative dialogue and yet the score is dramatic and energetic. The singing is lyrically and musically narrative around the plights of the characters and their friendships as they are the focal points throughout. The excellent portrayals of Rodolfo and Mimì from Rodriguez and Fagan respectively are exceptional and they are supported by an immensely talented cast including Chorus of Opera North (as Parisians) and also the Opera North Youth Company (as children).  

The production is supported with the strong direction of Lloyd and the musical and choreographic equivalent from Balsadonna and Lauren Poulton respectively. Anthony Ward’s creative staging ties appropriately with the spirit of La Bohème and is used innovatively well with smooth transitions with the changing scenes. Ward’s Bohemian costumes are simple, contemporary and do not compromise the story at all.  

La Bohème is powerfully moving and emotive. Its simplistic storyline and realistic themes are popular and is one of the most performed and accessible operas worldwide.  This probably draws non-opera fans as well as opera ones to seeing this celebrated opera.  Opera North again put on an excellent performance and the opera echoes just as much the realities of life and living day by day in today’s world.  

Reviewed on 12th October 2019 | Image: Richard H Smith

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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