Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

La bohème, LA Opera

On May 25, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of the Herbert Ross production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La bohème. Stage director, Peter Kazaras, made use of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s wide stage by setting some scenes usually seen inside the garret on the surrounding roof instead.

Amazons Enchant San Francisco

On May 21, 2016, Ars Minerva presented The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles (Le Amazzoni nelle Isole Fortunate), an opera consisting of a prologue and three acts by seventeenth century Venetian composer Carlo Pallavicino.

Mathis der Maler, Dresden

While Pegida anti-refugee demonstrations have been taking place for a while now in Dresden, there was something noble about the Semperoper with its banners declaring all are welcome, listing Othello, the Turk, and the hedon Papageno as examples.

The Makropulos Case, Munich

Opera houses’ neglect of Leoš Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life.

Orphée et Euridice, Seattle

It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Munich

Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Kate Valentine as Musetta, Gary Griffiths as Schaunard and David Soar as Colline [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of Welsh National Opera]
28 Oct 2012

La bohème on Tour, WNO, Oxford

Every major opera company needs a production of La bohème. It is one of the operas which has the potential to attract everyone, the work which will tempt the occasional opera goer into the theatre.

Giacomo Puccini : La bohème

Marcello: David Kempster; Rodolfo: Alex Vicens; Colline: Piotr Lempa; Schaunard: Daniel Grice; Benoit: Howard Kirk; Mimi: Giselle Allen; Parpignol: Michael Clifton-Thompson; Alcindoro: Martin Lloyd; Musetta: Kate Valentine; Customs Official: Laurence Cole; Customs Sergeant: Stephen Wells. Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera. Conductor: Simon Phillippo. Director: Annabel Arden. Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis.

Thursday, October 25 2012, New Theatre, Oxford

Above: Kate Valentine as Musetta, Gary Griffiths as Schaunard and David Soar as Colline

Photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of Welsh National Opera

 

As such, larger companies tend to err on the side of caution when creating new productions. Puccini’s La bohème is quite tightly constructed, and it doesn’t take easily to deconstruction or redefinition; the most directors tend to do is to move the period of the action from the mid-1800’s of the original. Annabel Arden’s new production for Welsh National Opera concentrates on telling the story in a clear, direct manner and illuminating the relationships between the characters with telling details. The production was new in June 2012, but WNO has revived it for their autumn tour; as a number of the original cast are in this revival it feels more like an extension of the original run.

I caught it on Thursday 25 October at the New Theatre, in Oxford. The New Theatre was originally a 1930’s cinema, and though the theatre takes large scale musical shows, there seems to be no pit, The WNO orchestra played from the floor of the stalls, which did seem to affect balance slightly though conductor Simon Phillippo did his best to keep the orchestra down and the singers were never overwhelmed. Phillippo is a WNO staff conductor who has taken over from Carlo Rizzi for this revival.

Arden and her designer Stephen Brimson Lewis have set the opera in the Paris of the early 20th century. These Bohemians are some of the young artists who flocked to Paris in these years, Les Annees Folles. The advantage of this is that we no longer have to think of the men as students. Though WNO’s singers were all young, this relieved the men of some of the more embarrassing antics which can mar acts 1 and 3. Here the men were skittish, but believable.

The setting for act 1 was rather cool. The set was a fixed structure, with a ramp at the back and doors on from the sides, all in metal. For act 1 these were disguised by translucent drops which depicted a Parisian roof-scape (in white), along with projections to add atmosphere. The flat had no walls, which combined with the translucent nature of the drops, meant that Arden could create some magical effects. The moment when Marcello (David Kempster), Colline (Piotr Lempa) and Schaunard (Daniel Grice) appear in the street and shout up to Rodolfo (Alex Vicens) and Mimi (Giselle Allen) was magical.

For act 2, the entire setting was in the open air, with waiters coming and going through the big metal doors at the side of stage. Projections on the back enlivened things, adding detail to what could have been a stark setting. I felt that Arden’s handling of the crowds in the busier parts of the scene seemed a little stilted, as if she was feeling constrained by the need to make a busy stage out of not quite enough people. She relied quite heavily on the excellent childrens chorus and on Michael Clifton-Thompson’s Parpignal (in a monkey mask!) to create movement. But from the moment when Musetta (Kate Valentine) struck up the waltz song, it was spell-binding. It seemed that Arden was best at illuminating individual details in the opera.

Boheme_WNO_2012_05.gifMichael Clifton-Thompson as Parpignol with cast

During this scene, the playing of the time period was, I think, a little heavy handed with one woman dressed as a man, another looking like Gertrude Stein or Frida Kahlo and two men in drag. Perhaps Paris was really like this at that time, but it felt a bit over done.

For act 3 the set was reduced to its simple basics, forming a bleak cold backdrop to the action. In the final act, though we were back in the flat, there were no drops of streetscapes, everything was bleaker, cooler, simpler; a rather elegant use of naturalism and stylisation to aid the story telling.

Spanish tenor Alex Vicens was in the original production but his Mimi, Giselle Allen, was new for this revival. Vicens has an appealing stage manner, his Rodolfo was endearing and involving in ways that do not always happen. Vicens had a tendency to semaphore with his hands, a habit that the director had clearly not been able to break him of, but he conveyed Rodolfo’s charm. You could understand why Mimi might fall for him. It has to be admitted that Vicens voice was a bit dry at the top, so that the famous moments in act 1 did not flower, quite the way they should have done. But Vicens was ardent and intense, shaping the music nicely.

Giselle Allen did not seem entirely comfortable in act 1 either. She and Vicens generated real tension and real attraction during their scene, the action was dramatically believable but musically it did not quite blossom. In fact, their strongest moment musically was act 3; this seemed to suit Allen’s voice best and their duet was heart breaking both dramatically and musically. I did wonder whether Allen’s repertoire might suggest her moving in a rather more dramatic direction. She is not the most Italianate of singers, but applied real intelligence to the role and was always a delight dramatically.

The strength of Arden’s production was in the little naturalistic details which she illuminated the action. In the wrong hands this would seem fussy, but here it helped made sense of the plot. And the act 4 death scene for Mimi was one of the most moving, least stagey that I have ever come across; a testament both to Arden and to Vicens and Allen.

Of course, this attention to detail helped make the most of the role of the other Bohemians. David Kempster’s Marcello came over as the lynchpin of the action. Kempster and Arden made the role of Marcello seem stronger and more important than is sometimes the case. The on-off romance of Marcello with Kate Valentine’s Musetta was a serious counter-poise to Rodolfo and Mimi rather than a side show. Valentine’s account of Musetta’s waltz in act 2 was a delight, but Arden developed it into a real dramatic moment as well. Kempster was serious and intense and you really felt for him.

One of the virtues of the production was that, at the end you were aware of the different characters reactions to Mimi’s death and came away with the feeling that none of their lives would quite be the same again.

Piotr Lempa was slightly dry voiced as Colline but his aria to his coat was touching. Daniel Grice had lovely swagger as Schaunard, complete with long hair and velvet suit. For once the hi-jinks in act 4 didn’t feel forced.

Martin Lloyd made a gross Alcindoro, perhaps too highly caricatured. Laurence Cole and Stephen Wells were the customs officials in act 3.

Simon Phillippo conducted with care and efficiency. His speeds kept things moving, without seeming rushed. But occasionally I wanted him to stretch things out, to dwell a little more. This is a case of styles of rubato, enjoying things without dwelling on them too much. But Phillippo drew fine playing from his orchestra and supported the singers admirably.

Arden has concentrated on the details in Puccini’s opera, telling the story with clarity and applying directorial gloss with subtlety. Perhaps there is scope for an edgier reading of the opera, but that would then not be the popular vehicle which the WNO needs for touring. Because this was popular, the house applauded warmly and I overheard many discussions about the opera as I walked to the station.

Robert Hugill

Click here for a photo gallery, together with video and audio presentations of this production.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):