Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Great singing, great music; it really pulls the heart strings!

La Bohème

Welsh National Opera , Wales Millennium Centre , February-02-17
La Bohème by Welsh National Opera It’s Christmas Eve and it’s freezing up in the attic room, high in the rooftops of this out-lying Parisian suburb. The impoverished occupants are not coping at all well. Marcello, an artist abandons his painting. The wiry Rodolfo can’t get on with his poetry. Rodolfo readily sacrifices the pages of a play he has written. The two of them greedily feed the pages into the fire; a little improvement but not for long. Their friend Colline, a philosopher, joins them complaining because he has not been able to pawn some of his books. Things really do move up a step when their musician friend, Schaunard brings them some food, wine and cigars. They banter well, like all young men. Their strong resonant voices get the air bubbling. As Rodolfo, American Dominick Chenes, certainly a“ powerhouse lyric tenor” delights and there is equal enchantment from Welsh baritone, Gary Griffiths’ Marcello, and an extraordinary, engaging performance from Jihoon Kim as Colline with an almost perfect all-embracing bass. Gary Brynmor John brings another sonorous baritone to Schaunard. They are also, as is every member of this very fine cast, excellent actors.

Things get almost raucous when the landlord, Benoit, a nice touch of bewildered comedy from Howard Kirk , a regular WNO chorus member. The lads pay the rent but bustle and tease the old man stealing the money back from him. They get rid of him and it’s time to go down to Café Momus in the Latin Quarter, where they can usually get away with not paying the bill. Life can be fun even when you’re young and hard up. Rodolfo tells them to go on as he has a newspaper piece to finish.

Very soon there is a knock on the door. It’s a neighbour seeking a light for her candle. Marina Costa-Jackson endues Mimi with a very fine enchanting and delicate beauty. After a few moments she falls to the floor in a faint. Rodolfo helps to revive her. Costa Jackson made her professional debut as recently as 2015, she has a remarkable presence and her crystal soprano is totally captivating. With ‘What a cold little hand’ Chenes raises our neck hairs and we know he is in love. With their two opening arias and their duet we enjoy singing at it best.

They join Rodolfo’s friend at the café. There’s some great carrying on with lots of children having fun. There’s a sparkling Parpignol from Michael Clifton-Thompson as he encourages the kids and sells his toys. We meet Musetta a former girl friend of Marcello but they still share a spark. She is accompanied by her sugar daddy. A penniless artist is not able to provide much fun! Lauren Fagan’s very lively Musetta moves from gaiety girl to a sensitive and understanding friend with a smooth and bewitching soprano.

Rodolfo and Mimi have by now fallen deeply in love but as time as gone on Rodolfo has become jealous and has left her. Mimi finds Marcello in a little tavern where he paints signs for the innkeeper.
She’s now desperately ill and missing Rodolfo. Rodolfo overhears her conversation with Marcello and agrees to postpone his separation.

A few months later the boys are back in the attic. Musetta arrives, she has found Mimi in the street, now not far from death. Our two unhappy young lovers are left alone together. This closing scene is a difficult one to play. But in the hands of these two consummate artists we experience a most beautiful and sorrowful ending to this superb production.

For details of the Welsh National Opera season see: www.wno.org.uk

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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