La bohème – Opera in four Acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Liugi Illica after Henri Murger’s novel Scènes de la vie de bohème [sung in Italian, with English surtitles]
Marcello – Andrew Finden
Rodolfo – Shaun Dixon
Colline – John Savournin
Schaunard – Frederick Long
Benoit – David Woloszko
Mimi – Anna Patalong
Musetta – Elin Pritchard
Alicindoro – James Harrison
Parpignol – Michael Bradley
Customs sergeant – Alistair Sutherland
Opera Holland Park Chorus
City of London Sinfonia
Stephen Barlow – Director
Andrew D. Edwards – Designer
Howard Hudson – Lighting Design
Bret Yount – Fight Director
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 11 June, 2016
Venue: Opera Holland Park, Kensington, London
Presumably in tribute to the Shakespeare 400 celebrations, this new Opera Holland Park production of La bohème goes back to Elizabethan times and places the action in the Globe Theatre, with a set design emulating the stage at Bankside. Deft placing of the chorus in the street and café scene of Act Two allows its contributions to really fill the auditorium and brought a wonderful sense of pageant.
Some minor amendments to the translations of the text to blur some detail that places the action in Paris are made. Musetta is the wealthy lady of the times, and there is a lot of doublet and hose amongst the men. It works triumphantly – not least because the production team has lavished detailed care in making the transposition – Mimi does not die in a bed but on a trestle table with no comforting mattress or covers. Beds in Elizabethan times were amongst the most expensive items of furniture – so the students having one would have been anachronistic in this setting, although if one wanted to depict the real grind of poverty there would be few colours evident. There is humour though – the students’ improvised fire effects of the first Act for example. All in all this staging is an interesting conceit and gamble; one that has paid off handsomely.
The musical performance is also first rate – Matthew Waldren conducting a fine and loving account of the score with verve and the City of London Sinfonia responding in kind. The principal roles benefit from having fresh young voices. At the centre of the action is Anna Patalong’s exquisitely sung Mimi; not a pallid waif but a real flesh and blood character with a great heart, and Patalong knows how to deliver the text as well. As Rodolfo Shaun Dixon displayed a virile voice, robust high notes aplenty, but also an occasional and unfortunate tendency to rush ahead of the beat at times. Andrew Finden was a burly and sympathetic Marcello, and John Savournin was Colline with great presence. Frederick Long’s Schaunard was also excellent – few will have heard so much of this character’s contribution to the ensemble start of the second Act. Elin Pritchard’s Musetta was full of panache and she found a good balance between vocal allure and dramatic involvement. Alicindoro and Benoit produced effective cameos from those singers concerned.
This is a festival Bohème with pathos, charm and bonhomie in abundance.