La Boheme - May 2009

La Boheme is Brilliant

Churchill Theatre Bromley 27th May 2009

The French word 'bohemien' was used in France since the 16th century when referring to gypsies. But later it came to be connected with the counter-culture of young artists in the Latin Quarter of 19th century Paris.

The opera with a libretto based on the novel 'Scenes de la vie de boheme' by Henry Murger', was first performed at the Teatro Regio, Turin in 1896 under the baton of the young Toscanini.

La Boheme, now considered to be one of the most popular and best-loved operas ever written, combining characterisation, sentiment and craftsmanship it has the perfect blend of joy and pathos. At the beginning we have all the excitement and ebullience of youth, enjoying student life and loving and by the end of the opera, they have experienced their first taste of death at first hand.

Such a well-known opera could leave itself wide open to criticism, however tonight's performance by Kentish Opera cannot have disappointed many of it's audience. Artistic director, Sally Langford should be delighted with her latest production.

In a most convincingly constructed little tiny attic room there is much camaraderie between Marcello and Rodolfo. Despite hunger, cold and lack of money, cheerfulness prevails. In their duet 'Questo mar Rosso' they cheerily agree to burn their own work. David Newman did well stepping into Philip O'Brien's 'place as Rodolfo and the rapport between him and Mimi (Ruth Kerr) came out in their love duet 'O soave fanciulla (lovely maid in the moonlight) beautifully sung by the new lovers. This theme reocurs several times during the opera.

Although Colline (Andrew Kidd) Schaunard (Mark Saberton) have smaller parts, their voices were well-chosen and their cavorting was splendid!

The harp played a big part in this production and Janice Bevan brought out a beautiful sound. I felt that Mark Fitz-Gerald's orchestra needed to play just a little softer.

Carol Stevenson's costumes introduced a wonderful array of colour as Act II opened revealing the Café Momus in the Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve. In amongst the 'sea' of people and children there are snatches of chorus and recitative which run through the scene and enhance the general merriment. The chorus did well and the children were a joy, clearly well-rehearsed, seemingly in control of their roles and enjoying the privilege of being part of it all.

Musetta (Marcello's ex girlfriend - Rebecca Hodgetts) was excellently cast as a fickle and flirtatious young woman out for all she could get. Her waltz song 'Quando m'en vo' (As through the streets I wander) not only brought out her lovely soprano voice but also brought back her lover Marcello! We hear more of Marcello (Peter Grevatt's) mellow baritone voice in the third act.

The denouement in the last Act which starts as the four young men frolic around the attic and Rodolfo, still feeling let down by Mimi, sings 'Ah Mimi, tu piu non torni' (Ah Mimi, fickle-hearted) but almost at once the atmosphere changes when Musetta brings in Mimi, now clearly dying of consumption.

The phrases 'Che gelida manina' and 'Mi chiamano Mimi' from their first love song return as laments and Mimi very gracefully and silently slips away, leaving the distraught Rodolfo desperately crying out her name.

Pippa Hare