Opera Theatre Company marks 30 years of touring with a return to one of the most popular works in the canon. La Bohème, Puccini’s story of young love and death in Paris, was presented here in the original Italian with subtitles.
Director Ben Barnes plays it straight. The updating of the setting to 1930s Paris is gentle enough not to shock traditionalists. Joe Vanek’s spartan, paint-spattered set transforms effectively to a cheery café interior. Friendship is as much at the heart of this story as passion and the sense of blokey bonhomie among the quartet of bohemian buddies was conveyed with great charm.
While the weight of voices was uneven across the ensemble, the singing was impressive. They looked good and moved very well around the stage. Baritone Charles Rice as Marcello was an assertive alpha male. Meath bass-baritone Padraic Rowan showed a solid depth of tone in a touching delivery of Colline’s solo 4th act aria. There was excellent singing too from Mayo baritone, Rory Musgrave as Schaunard.
Frail seamstress she may be, but there was nothing fragile about Máire Flavin’s strong and clear voiced Mimi, her debut in the role. Argentinian Pablo Bemsch as her lover was a lithe Rodolfo whose expression of utter dismay at Mimi’s demise made the audience hold their breath. Sinéad Campbell-Wallace in nifty flapper style costumes was a delightfully coquettish Musetta, merciless in her teasing of Alcindora sung by Adrian Clarke.
There was plenty of passion too in the pit as the 11-piece orchestra under director Andrew Greenwood, proved one player per part was ample to do justice to the colours in the score. Rarely have pizzicatos sounded so plangent.
For an opera celebrating youth it was good to see a broader age range than usual at opera performances represented in the audience. I’ve seen three Bohème’s in recent years, one in a swanky European house, another in the open air at the composer’s Italian summer residence. But this one in the O’Reilly Theatre in Dublin was the most dramatically compelling. A suitably classy production to mark a 30 year mile-stone. On tour this month. Catch it if you can.
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