Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Guieseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
Director: Annabel Arden
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
The Public Reviews Rating:
Luciano Pavarotti once said of Puccini’s La Bohème, “As far as I am concerned, it is the perfect opera. The music perfectly suits the text. Each act has its own atmosphere and character, and each is beautifully constructed.”
Director Annabel Arden’s innovative and sensitive interpretation of this opera classic for the Welsh National Opera concurs with the maestro’s description on all levels. Arden sets her production of La Bohème, first performed in 1896, in the Paris of 1910, and in doing so makes striking use of projection, sets and costume to portray a city of contrasts, moving from poverty-stricken rooftop attics via snowy streets and the warmth of Christmas celebrations at Café Momus. The story, in essence that of love in a garret (in this case a Parisian one), focussing on the relationship between Rodolfo, a penniless poet, and Mimi, a poor seamstress. They meet on Christmas Eve and fall instantly in love, but their happiness is short-lived as Mimi’s health deteriorates and Rodolfo struggles to cope with his (unfounded) jealousy. Meanwhile, their friends Marcello and Musetta are involved in a tempestuous relationship. Spring comes, and with it the news that Mimi is gravely ill. Dreams of love turn to anguished sorrow as her health takes a downward turn.
For soprano Giselle Allen, the challenge of singing a role sung by so many divas before her is heightened by the knowledge that, only this summer, the role of Mimi was sung by much-praised soprano Anita Hartig. Allen brings to her performance a voice of exceptional purity and clarity, plus an understanding of the complexity of the role – the sweetness of her Mi Chiamano Mimi (They Call Me Mimi) in Act I contrasting with a touch of acerbic acidity in Act II when Rodolpho’s jealousy becomes too much for her, which makes her Mimi entirely credible.
Alex Vicens, as Rodolpho, is no stranger to the role, which he has sung many times before. His melodic tenor voice serves him well in both the upper and lower registers, notably in the well known aria Che Gelida Manina (What a Cold Little Hand) in Act I. David Kempster brings a fine baritone to his portrayal of the artist Marcello, frustrated by the flirtatious antics of Musetta, sung by soprano Kate Valentine. Musetta’s entry, in Act II, provides the signal for a scene of debauchery which, in Arden’s hands, includes a couple of transvestites among those who frequent the Café Momus. How far to go with Musetta – the tart with a heart – is always a problem with this role. Valentine handles it superbly, bringing out the tough side of the character in this scene, particularly during the famous waltz in which she sings of her charms, and holding back on the tenderness of the woman within until Act III.
Designer Stephen Brimson Lewis, who won an Olivier award for his work on Les Enfants Terrible, and lighting designer Tim Mitchell, who has worked extensively with the RSC, both bring considerable talent to this superb WNO production, enhanced by the music of the orchestra under the baton of Simon Phillippo. The chorus, as always with this world-class company, is excellent.
Runs until 5th October 2012.
Tags: Alex Vicens, Annabel Arden, Cardiff, David Kempster, Giselle Allen, Kate Valentine, La Boheme, Simon Phillippo, Stephen Brimson Lewis, Tim Mitchell, wales millennium centre, Welsh National Opera, WNO