Opera North’s ‘La Boheme’ @ Leeds Grand Theatre

By October 18, 2019

Theatre & Dance. Leeds.

Photo credit: Richard H. Smith

There is confidence aplenty at Opera North (ON) about the box office potential of their 1950s-set ‘Bohème’. Phyllida Lloyd’s revival of what was originally a 1993 launch is scheduled for no fewer than ten performances in Leeds and a further nine on tour after that. Apart from obvious changes of conductor and vocal principals – there is an alternative cast to avoid burn out – it is the same production we have seen as recently as 2014. Is their optimism justified?

Once more, the casting scouts for the first night bring together a perfectly-matched Mimi and Rodolfo. Sydney-born Lauren Fagan and Mexican Eleazar Rodriguez, both making their ON debuts, sing with passion and youthful vitality in the famous love duet in Act I, top notes secure in its initial tenderness, climaxing vocally with suitable ecstatic fervour against an orchestra not inclined to understate Puccini’s opulent romantic scoring.

Photo credit: Richard H. Smith

Also performing for Opera North for the first time are Ukrainian baritone, Yuriy Yurchuk, playing Marcello, jealous yet sincerely in love with the flighty but calculating Musetta of Armenian-born Anush Hovhannisyan. A very fine moment, in an evening of very fine moments, comes in Act III with a quartet of these two couples, the one reconciling in reasoned understanding, the other bickering opposite them on stage, vocally at odds, yet musically harmonious with each other.

Unlike Tosca and Butterfly, the heroines of Puccini’s other collaborations with librettists Illica and Giacosa, Mimi does not die for love, but she dies nevertheless. Wan and beaten by consumption, her passing occurs unnoticed by the others on stage, preoccupied, as they are, in fevered activity to tend to her. It remains one of Opera’s most poignant scenes, a devastating end for characters with whom Puccini has made us wholly empathetic.

Photo credit: Richard H. Smith

Light relief in the tortuous decline unfolding before us is provided by the student antics of Rodolfo, Marcello and Emyr Wyn Jones’ Colline and Henry Neill’s Schaunard. Their avoidance of paying the rent and general high-spirited play-acting – an amusing re-enactment of the iconic Marilyn Monroe New York sidewalk dress-blowing is touched upon – are well choreographed by Lauren Poulton. Credit too to Jeremy Peaker’s landlord, who manages a lovely transition from the aggressively cantankerous to the pliantly convivial thanks to a little red wine from the stage and honeyed tones from the pit. Scene changes for Anthony Ward’s idiomatic staging are seamless thanks to the Grand Theatre’s famous set rotations, except for a long pause, perhaps necessary, to prepare us for the final Act.

Opera North’s ‘La Bohème’ is a tried and trusted production of one of Opera’s most enduring masterpieces. Illica and Giacosa’s believable characterisations and Puccini’s endearingly magical score describe the timeless human passage from carefree, youthful invincibility to concerned, compassionate adulthood, as recognisable now as it was in the 1890s or 1950s

Find out more here
Performances: Wed 16, Fri 18, Tue 22, Thu 24, Sat 26, Tue 29 October, 7.30pm
Wed 23, Thu 24, Sat 26 October, 2.30pm Leeds Grand Theatre
then touring Newcastle, Nottingham, Salford Quays until 15 November

Sung in Italian with English subtitles.