La bohème

OA_La bohemeLike many before me, La bohème was the opera in which I discovered how deeply moving the heady mix of great music, drama and visuals could be.

My epiphany took place during a 1973 performance of La bohème given by the Australian Opera in the Canberra Theatre. Eilene Hannan and Henri Wilden played Mimi and Rodolfo on a romantic setting created by Tom Lingwood. I was so deeply moved, that following the finale, I had to quickly find a dark corner in which to compose myself.

Since then I’ve seen many productions of La bohème, including a couple that were frankly dreadful, but most often I still find myself moved by the plight of these four rather silly lovers.

Gale Edwards’ current production for Opera Australia, set in the decadence of 1930’s Berlin with its overtones of emerging Nazism, has become a favourite. The morphings of Brian Thomson’s spiegeltent-inspired setting remain as intriguing as they are spectacular. So do Julie Lynch’s stunning Café Momus costumes.

As good as previous casts of this production have been the singing of current cast is simply breathtaking. Mexican tenor, Diego Torre is a revelation. His stunning singing soon makes you forget that while physically, he’s not particularly suited to the role of Rodolfo, being very much in the Pavarotti mould, his gloriously lush tenor compels you to hang on to every golden note of his beautifully phrased vocals. However, it is his acting of the role which is the big surprise. Energetic, engaging, funny, passionate and finally, bereft, his Rodolfo is completely believable and lovable.

Matching him vocally as the object of his passion, Latvian soprano, Maija Kovalevska was also impressive. Although her Mimi initially seemed rather too knowing and manipulative to garner much sympathy for her plight, as the opera progressed, with the realization that she was prepared to resort to prostitution for survival, her apparent seduction of the gullible Rodolfo in the first act becomes an understandable and interesting interpretation. Her final death scene in Act 1V was beautifully managed and moving.

The growth in the confidence and artistry of Lorina Gore as Musetta has been fascinating to watch, and she is quickly emerging as a glamorous new star for Opera Australia. Her singing is thrilling, and the motivations of her carefully honed Musetta, at first confident, spoilt, flirtatious and shallow, but then warm, caring and thoughtful as Mimi’s plight becomes obvious, are clearly accomplished. It will be interesting to see her undertake the role of Violetta in La Traviata later in the year.

Completing the strong quartet of lovers, Andrew Jones, smouldering as the jealous painter, Marcello, also continues to impress with his strong confident singing and passionate acting. Shane Lowrencev (Schaunard), David Parkin (Colline), Graeme Macfarlane (Benoit) and Adrian Tamburini (Alcindoro) all contribute strongly sung and, well-delineated characterisations.

And if all this vocal and visual splendour were not enough, Puccini’s glorious music had seldom sounded better than on this occasion. Seemingly pleased with what he was hearing, Maestro Andrea Molino carefully guided the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra through every lush and dramatic nuance of this marvellous score to produce a performance satisfying enough to send at least one happy camper out into the balmy Sydney night glowing with nostalgic recollections of his first encounter with La bohème back in 1973.

La bohème
Joan Sutherland Theatre –
Sydney Opera House
Performance: Tuesday 6 January 2015 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 16 January 2015
Bookings: www.opera.org.au

For more information, visit: www.opera.org.au for details.

Image: Andrew Jones as Marcello, David Parkin as Colline, Shane Lowrencev as Schaunard, Lorina Gore as Musetta, Diego Torre as Rodolfo and Maija Kovalevska as Mimì – photo by Branco Gaica

Review: Bill Stephens

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