La Bohème

State Opera of South Australia (SOSA)

Adelaide Festival Centre. 10 Jul 2012

Recently whilst visiting the New York Metropolitan Opera I was reminded of Robert Burns’ witticism that goes along the lines of “Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings”. 

Whilst browsing the gift shop I chanced upon a fridge magnet which reads:  (Him) “Why did Mimi have to die???” (Her) “Oh Bob…It just wouldn’t be La Bohème if she didn’t.”  It comes from a series entitled “Post-Operative”.  I chortled approvingly at the wit, promptly bought it and now it adorns my fridge along with many others.  But Mimi’s death is something quite notable in La Bohème – almost surreal.  It is the only moment in the whole opera where there is spoken text – contrast this with the abundance of recitative in operas by Mozart for example – and Gale Edward’s stunning production drove home the poignancy and gravitas of this briefest of moments.

Edwards chose to set the action of Puccini’s much loved opera in Weimar Germany, replete with exotic semi-nude cabaret artists and evocative, richly decorated sets by Brian Thomson that were beautifully lit by John Raymant.  The visual elements of this production were almost too much – a veritable feast.  But we should not be too surprised – the creative teams that are brought together by Opera Australia and the State Opera of SA are world class, as are the results of their collaboration.

As is the case with many operas, La Bohème has quite an odd story.  Whereas many explore mystical and improbable tales, La Bohème is mundane.  It is about the lives, loves and daily struggles of a group of young artists as they ply their trades and eke out a meagre existence.  There are no deep themes to ponder and the story is almost worthy of a Mills and Boon novella, however, it includes some of the most unforgettable and gloriously lyrical music ever written for opera. 

Most memorable is the aria and extended duet ‘Your tiny hand is frozen’ sung by the two young lovers Rodolfo and Mimi as they first discover each other and fall hopelessly in love.  James Egglestone was stellar as Rodolfo; he possesses a richly warm tenor voice that is mature beyond his years.  After a less than convincing start, Jacqueline Mabardi complemented Egglestone beautifully, and soared in Acts 2 and 3.  Together they looked perfect – young, fit, attractive, and totally believable.  Nicholas Lester and Pelham Andrews were imposing as Marcello and Colline, and Guy Booth, Andrew Turner, Robert Macfarlane and Adam Goodburn rounded out the minor principals with well-acted and entertaining performances, especially Goodburn.

Timothy Sexton is to be congratulated for his work with the chorus, especially the children’s chorus, and maestro Kynan Johns brought the best out of the quartets; they were a highlight.

Edwards took some risks with her design concept, and brought to the surface the more raunchy and seamy aspects of ‘Bohemian life’, and it all paid off.  The only disappointment was the curtain call that was limited to the major principals.  The minor principals and chorus were presumably packed off as soon as they were no longer required as if they didn’t deserve the audience’s accolade, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you are curious about opera, but haven’t yet taken the plunge, then you must go and see SOSA’s next offering in August/September, which is ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ by Jacques Offenbach.  It promises to be a fun production full of toe tapping and familiar music and singing.

Kym Clayton

When: Closed
Where: Festival Theatre
Bookings: Closed