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La Bohème – English National Opera
28 Feb 2007

La Bohème – English National Opera

The death this month of director Stephen Pimlott could have cast a shadow over this revival of his 1993 production, but a hugely affectionate pre-show tribute by colleague Nicholas Hytner ensured that the performance only served to do great honour to the memory of a man who was clearly loved and cherished by many.

La Bohème – English National Opera, February 22nd 2007


The first night of this revival, directed by Ian Rutherford, did the late director proud. Following a triumph in the role on Glyndebourne’s 2005 tour, Peter Auty’s Rodolfo was physically and vocally full of youthful ardour, while as Mimì, Mary Plazas combined the looks of a china doll with the vocal warmth and personality of a flesh-and-blood young woman. boheme-211.pngMark Stone’s Marcello was masculine and glamorous, with every word projected clearly; there was real passion in the ‘big moment’ when he takes up the melody in Musetta’s aria. Giselle Allen’s portrayal of Musetta was quite remarkable, a young woman full of promise brought to her knees by miserable poverty, and the exceptional bass Matthew Rose made much of his role as Colline, creating a moment of stillness and awe with his Act 4 aria.

Musically the performance was not entirely successful. Conductor Xian Zhang had a mixed evening with tempi which were at times so measured that they almost ground to a halt, but seemed to have a particular affinity with Plazas in her arias, and as the tragedy reached its conclusion, grew in expressive breadth. A balance problem between pit and stage in the first act caused whole passages of solo singing to become inaudible, but this was seemingly addressed in due course as the issue was no longer apparent after the interval.

However on stage there was diligent attention to detail; a piece of luxury casting found Robert Poulton singing the dual roles of Benoit and Alcindoro, which he contrasted with two very different styles of seediness. The crowded stage of Act 2 felt like a genuine public gathering, with a particularly convincing children’s chorus; the simultaneous duets of Act 3 were well-defined and audible alongside one another. A few minor anomalies in the production’s updating to the mid-20th century can be forgiven in the overall scheme of a staging which continues to feel immediate and ‘real’.

boheme-119.pngOne would hope – and expect – that Pimlott would have been well pleased with this touching and credible realisation of his enduringly popular production.

Ruth Elleson, February 26th 2007

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