fri 12/08/2022

La Bohème, Opera North | reviews, news & interviews

La Bohème, Opera North

La Bohème, Opera North

Setting Puccini's heartbreaker in Beat-era Paris works a treat

This is a revival of the 1993 production originally directed by Phyllida Lloyd (of Mamma Mia! fame). Directed on this occasion by Peter Relton, it still works brilliantly. Lloyd has updated the setting to 1950s Paris with her young bohemians wearing polo necks, jeans and berets. A gleaming motorbike is one of the objects adorning their living space, its condition degenerating along with the health of Mìmi until it is replaced by a pedal cycle in the final act.

As the curtain flies up and the orchestra launches into those upward dotted figures, the artist Marcello is splattering red paint onto canvas in Pollockian fashion in his freezing, filthy flat. While Rodolfo burns his latest play script in the stove to provide heat, the quartet of impoverished artists wrap themselves in blankets against the December chill.

These early knockabout scenes are at times like watching a 1950s Parisian version of The Young Ones. The landlord Benoit is caricatured in a poster stuck to the door, hastily removed when he arrives in search of overdue rent. Opera North have assembled an improbably young and attractive cast for this revival. Turkish tenor Bűlent Bezdűz is a near-perfect Rodolfo - all cheekbones, flowing locks and nervous tension. Marcin Bronikowski as Marcello is similarly charismatic. They are well supported by Frédéric Bourreau’s Colline and Quirijin de Lang’s Schaunard,

The female casting is similarly effective. Anne Sophie Dupreis is a captivating Mimì. The appearance of Sarah Fox’s worldly Musetta in the second act is beautifully staged in the midst of some nicely choreographed, witty crowd scenes and a set which advances and revolves in cinematic fashion.

The opera's quieter passages work just as well - the final minutes of Act 3 when Rodolfo and Mimì are reconciled are gorgeous, the lovers framed against a red background in the darkness. The highlight of Anthony Ward’s delightful designs comes when Marcello’s obsession with Musetta is revealed in his series of Warholian portraits.

You are reminded too of what a fantastic score this is, with its mercurial changes of mood. Richard Farnes conducts, nicely propulsive whilst attentive to Puccini’s imaginative orchestration. Too often, revivals can lack sparkle. This evening Bohème felt freshly minted.

La Bohème booking for performances until 18 February at Leeds Grand Theatre. Then on tour to The Lowry, Salford, Theatre Royal Newcastle and Theatre Royal Nottingham.

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