TRCH Nov 19

Theatre Review: La bohème at Theatre Royal

7 November 19 words: Gareth Morgan

Our Gareth checked out a spot of Opera...

Christmas is no fun when you’re poor. As Rodolfo shivers in his Parisian garret, the archetype of the starving artist, there is a debate whether to burn his latest play or to carry on freezing. The arrival of a recently flush Schaunard means they can afford a night on the tiles in the Latin Quarter. As the others leave, Mimi stumbles in, searching for a match to relight her candle. What follows is the three-act tragedy of their romance – brilliantly brought to life by Phyllida Lloyd’s precise direction, some excellent principles and the energy of the Opera North chorus.

Outstanding in this are leads Eleazar Rodriguez and Lauren Fagan as Rodolfo and Mimi – their voices worked together beautifully, and you got caught up in seeing their whirlwind romance/first date in the streets of snowy Paris. In act one, Fagan’s Si, Mi Chiamano Mimi and their duet O Soave Fanciulla are sung wonderfully. Toward the end of the show it is incredible to see the ability of the two singers to deliver their arias crouched over or lain down to such a standard.

Annush Hovhannisyan as femme-fatale Musetta delivers the showstopping Quando me'n vo whilst being spun around by a chorus of sailors in the vibrant Café Momus. Yuriy Yurchuk, playing Rodolfo’s housemate Marcello, is perhaps the strongest presence on stage and, along with Emyr Wyn Jones’ Colline and Henry Neill as Schaunard, particularly in their playful start to the final act, add much needed comedy to what could otherwise feel a weighty evening.  This juxtaposition makes the emotional punch of the opera’s end so much greater.

The standout drama is the second half, with Mimi and Marcello confronting the issues with their relationships, set in front of a seedy club, with Reve (dream) scrawled on the wall in graffiti. There is a coarseness in the interpretation of the text and the design by Anthony Ward, particularly the spinning café set and the polaroid-like proscenium frame, add to the idea of captured vignettes of a story.

Standing out in this production is the interrogation of the men’s jealousy and the flaws in these romantic leads – Rodolfo’s inability to talk to Mimi about his feelings and later Marcello’s violence. There is a real-ness that is often lacking in the whimsy of opera and a rigour to the direction, credit to a director as experienced and respected as Phyllida Lloyd, that evoked similar bold versions of classics like Opera North’s 2011 Carmen with Daniel Kramer at the helm. The acting stands out and the almost Helen Hegel scream of Rodolfo demonstrates his feeling of utter devastation and loss.

With £10 tickets available for under thirties, why not try opera out this week?                                                                                                                                         

La bohème runs at Theatre Royal until Friday 8 November

Theatre Royal website